Nature Canada

What Physical Distancing Means for Getting Outside

Canadians have been advised to “physical distance” to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Physical distancing is a new and unfamiliar term for most of us. It’s defined as the act of limiting the number of people you come into contact with. 

So, what does that mean for getting outside and enjoying nearby nature? Nature Canada has been fielding a lot of these questions in the last week, and we thought it was worth relaying what we know from the latest advice of health care professionals.

Physical Distancing and the Outdoors

Physical distancing doesn’t mean being homebound. Public health officials say that spending time outdoors is fine so long as you can maintain a two-metre distance between you and other people. The same rules apply indoors and out: avoid large gatherings of people. 

These rules do not apply to friends or loved ones who you’re already quarantining with at home. A walk in your neighbourhood or a nearby park is totally fine so long as it’s a quiet spot with plenty of space.

Even public health officials and politicians are recommending a responsible dose of fresh air. This is the message from Vancouver’s mayor, Kennedy Stewart:

And this tweet is from Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s Medical Officer of Health:

Ottawa Public Health goes on to say: “You can still go outside to take a walk, go to the park, or walk your dog. […] We simply recommend that while outside you make sure to avoid crowds and maintain a distance of 2 metres (6 feet) from those around you.” 

The exception to this recommendation are folks who are feeling ill, those who have returned from travel in the past 14 days, and people with pre-existing medical conditions or a compromised immune system. Health Canada recommends it’s best to stay at home and inside if you fall under one or more of these categories. Fortunately, you don’t have to miss out on the joy of spring’s arrival—check out Nature Canada’s guide to indoor birding!

Taking Your Kids Outside

With kids across the country at home, heading into nearby nature is a great opportunity for them to burn energy and discover the signs of spring. While playgrounds may be the default family destination, many cities are recommending against using play equipment. Cities in the Greater Toronto Area, for instance, have put up signage reminding parents that play structures are not sanitized and that children should wash their hands before and after use. In one city, officials have gone so far as to shut down all playgrounds.

So what’s a family to do? Window walks are becoming increasingly popular across Canada’s neighbourhoods and offer a scavenger hunt that’s just as fun for adults as it is for kids! See if your neighbourhood is doing something similar—if not, it’s perhaps a possible arts and craft project for your family!

In summary:

  • You can still go outside if you’re physical distancing, so long as you maintain a two-metre distance between people;
  • Avoid busy parks or areas where maintaining this two-metre distance may not be possible. That includes gathering with a large group of friends;
  • Playground equipment is not sanitized and parents should take extra care if their children are playing in these locations;
  • Remember to check the latest provincial and national park guidelines before heading to one of these sites. Many parks are now closed or offering reduced services. If you think this may present an issue, you’re best staying close to home and exploring nature in your neighbourhood.

Stay tuned to Nature Canada’s website as we share more ideas for how you can take advantage of nature to stay physically and mentally active in the weeks ahead.

Editor’s note: This blog post was updated on Monday, March 30 to reflect the shift in language from “social distancing” to “physical distancing.”

Nature Canada thanks the frontline medical workers for their efforts during this time. We follow the advice of the World Health Organization and Health Canada. Please visit these two websites for the latest information on how to protect you and your family from COVID-19.

Nature is also important to our health and well-being and we hope you’ll consider supporting our efforts to save nature. Thank you for caring!

Yours in nature, the Nature Canada team.

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