Skaters makes their way along the Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa on the opening day of its 50th season, on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020. From manufactured rinks in city parks, to lengthy swaths of iced-over rivers, Canada’s outdoor public skating spaces may prove popular during the first full winter of the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Skaters makes their way along the Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa on the opening day of its 50th season, on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020. From manufactured rinks in city parks, to lengthy swaths of iced-over rivers, Canada’s outdoor public skating spaces may prove popular during the first full winter of the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Are outdoor ice rinks safe? Experts say skating is low risk, but precautions needed

Municipalities across the country are working on guidelines for their outdoor skating rinks

From manufactured rinks in city parks, to lengthy swaths of iced-over rivers, Canada’s outdoor public skating spaces may prove popular during the first full winter of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Health experts say that’s a good thing, as skating outdoors offers opportunity for socialization and exercise. And it poses relatively low risk of coronavirus transmission.

So go ahead and lace up those skates, they say, but be mindful of a couple caveats.

Risk goes up if those outdoor ice surfaces become too crowded, says Dr. Andrew Morris, an infectious disease expert with the University of Toronto, and safety precautions need to be followed in the moments before and after people hit the ice, where spread is more likely to occur.

“‘The activity (of skating) itself is safe, but if you’ve got 20 people in an indoor change room, especially unmasked, maybe with poor ventilation, that would be a real challenge,” Morris said.

“But in general, the more outdoors and the less crowded, the better. And if people can skate or engage in any other safe outdoor activities this winter, they should absolutely be doing it.”

Municipalities across the country are working on guidelines for their outdoor skating rinks, which can open anywhere from mid-November to early January, weather-depending.

Most cities are expected to cut on-ice capacity in order to better maintain a safe distance between skaters, and places like Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto and Ottawa say other safety measures will depend on public health advice at the time rinks open.

Calgary, home to many outdoor rinks including an artificial ice patch at Olympic Plaza, is also starting a pilot project of skating trails in parks across the city this winter, spokesperson Todd Reichardt said. The idea came together before the pandemic began, but will serve a safety purpose in giving skaters more space to spread out.

Winnipeg’s river trail, which also includes spaces for curling and hockey, is one popular outdoor destination once it opens in the chilly city, typically around New Year’s Eve.

Clare MacKay, a spokesperson for the Forks Renewal Corporation which runs the trail, says the skating area can stretch up to 11 kilometres in length, depending on how the river freezes each year.

Public health guidelines will be implemented on the trail, MacKay says, but the wide-open space gives her confidence people will be able to keep a safe distance.

Still, Jason Kindrachuk, a virologist with the University of Manitoba, expects the river trail to look different this year if COVID cases continue to rise in Winnipeg.

The Manitoba capital reported 265 cases on Thursday and 136 more on Friday, and Kindrachuk says that while outdoor skating is low risk, danger can rise depending on how much COVID we’re seeing when rinks open.

“The trail is kind of a centerpiece for winter in Winnipeg, so it can get busy, and I don’t think we quite know what it’s going to look like (this year),” Kindrachuk said. “We know the situation in Winnipeg has not been good, but is that going to be the case in January and February?

“What we need to focus on is — if we want to be able to do these things safely we need to make the right decisions now to try and reduce transmission.”

Ottawa’s popular Rideau Canal Skateway, which is operated by the National Capital Commission, says it will also follow public health directives as it prepares to open in January, and skaters will be required to adhere to guidelines that will be posted along the trail.

Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist with the University of Ottawa who’s lived in the Canadian capital for 17 years, has seen how busy the canal can get at the height of the winter season.

But he’s not concerned with COVID spreading from person to person when they’re gliding past each other on canal’s lengthy ice surface — a six-metre wide track that winds 7.8 kilometres through the city.

“There’s a lot of space and a lot of movement, which is good; it means you’re not being exposed to the same people for prolonged periods,” he said. “And the ventilation is, of course, second to none.”

Crowding into one of the indoor spaces along the trail, such as a warming hut or public bathroom, isn’t advisable though, he added.

“So really it’s the stuff surrounding the skating that’s the concern, not the skating itself.”

Deonandan suggests putting on skates outside to avoid indoor locker areas that may be crowded. And he advises against huddling for warmth with people outside of your household while waiting your turn on an outdoor rink.

Masks should be worn in indoor environments to limit risk, Deonandan says. But wearing a face covering while skating isn’t necessary — “unless maybe you’re ice dancing with someone and you’re face-to-face,” he added.

Morris says skating with a mask likely won’t be a requirement at most rinks, but it won’t hurt to wear one anyway.

“Every measure increases the safety of an activity,” he said. “My guess is that if people are masked, it’s going to make everyone feel safer. And I think that’s part of the importance.”

As for Winnipeggers skating on the river trail this winter, MacKay says making masks mandatory likely won’t be necessary, but that could change based on public health directives.

“Right now things are changing so rapidly, but I mean, it’s Winnipeg in winter,” she said with a laugh. “You’re probably already wearing something over your face just to keep warm.”

Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusSnow

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Chief Joe Alphonse
OP-ED: Williams Lake municipal, regional councils lack awareness on historical trauma

Systemic racism isn’t always obvious to those that are not experiencing it

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
36 new cases of COVID-19, one death in Interior Health

The number of active cases in the region is at 366

The City of Williams Lake is asking for public feedback on whether it should explore the opportunity to host a Greater Metro Hockey League team in Williams Lake. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Williams Lake GMHL expansion questions, concerns, to be discussed later this month

If approved, the team would begin play in the fall of 2021

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the B.C. legislature press theatre to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 6, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. nears 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, essential workers next

564 new cases, four deaths, no new outbreaks Thursday

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Canada’s hockey dad had battled Parkinson’s disease and other health issues

Kelowna General Hospital (File photo)
Second death reported in Kelowna General Hospital COVID-19 outbreak

A total of seven cases have been identified at the hospital: six patients and one staff

Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 4, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals, NDP sing in harmony on local election reforms

Bill regulates paid canvassers, allows people in condo buildings

(National Emergency Management Agency)
No tsunami risk to B.C. from powerful New Zealand earthquake: officials

An 8.1 magnitude earthquake shook the north of New Zealand Thursday morning

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
Pandemic stress, isolation key factors as to why Canadians turned to cannabis, alcohol

Study found that isolation played key role in Canadians’ substance use

(File photo)
Kamloops Mountie bitten while arresting woman

The assault on March 1 is the latest in a string of incidents that have left local officers injured

Most Read