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

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: Vancouver Island in a January spike while B.C. cases decrease

Island’s top doc Dr. Stanwick breaks down the Island’s rising numbers

Last year’s session with the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP at the Chemainus Legion Hall. (File photo by Don Bodger)
North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP want public input

In-person forums not being held this year

Surf scooter at Kin Beach in Chemainus. (Sylvie Newey photo)
Surf’s up!

Surf scoter scours the waters off Chemainus for food

North Cowichan council held its first meeting of 2021 on Jan. 20.
Firearms Discharge Bylaw amendments put on the backburner

Forestry review still needs to be completed before staff makes a recommendation to council

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

Jonathon Muzychka and Dean Reber are wanted on Canada-wide warrants. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Convicted killer, robber at large after failing to return to facility: Victoria police

Dean Reber, 60, and Jonathon Muzychka, 43, may be together

B.C. Premier John Horgan listens during a postelection news conference in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
30% of B.C. recovery benefit applications held up in manual review

The province says 150 staff have been reassigned to help with manually reviewing applications

Adam Dergazarian, bottom center, pays his respect for Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, in front of a mural painted by artist Louie Sloe Palsino, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Kobe Bryant’s presence remains strong a year after his death

Tuesday marks the grim anniversary of the crash that took their lives

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

Surrey RCMP are investigating after a pedestrian was struck and killed at 183 Street and Highway 10 Friday night. (File photo)
The Brucejack mine is 65 km north of Stewart in northwestern B.C. (Pretivm Photo)
B.C. mine executives see bright gleam in post-COVID future

Low carbon drives demand for copper, steelmaking coal

In this Dec. 18, 2020 photo, pipes to be used for the Keystone XL pipeline are stored in a field near Dorchester, Neb.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris Machian /Omaha World-Herald via AP
Canadians divided over Keystone pipeline, despite U.S. president’s permit pullback

Two-thirds of Canadians think Biden’s decision was a “bad thing” for Alberta

Cowichan Tribes chief Squtxulenhuw (William Seymour) confirmed the first death in the First Nations community from COVID-19. (File photo)
Cowichan Tribes confirms first death from COVID-19

Shelter-in-place order has been extended to Feb. 5

Most Read