The end of May typically marks the start of the summer at beaches across Ontario. This year, it will be an unprecedented swim season due to the measures in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Some beaches in Ontario, including those located in Ontario Provincial Parks and conservation areas, are currently closed under the order of the province’s Declaration of Emergency. Click here to access the 27 May 2020 order. The beach closures were ordered as part of the extended declaration of emergency to stop the spread of COVID-19 by encouraging people to stay home, practice physical distancing, and avoid social gatherings.
Beaches fall under outdoor recreational amenities in the 30 March 2020 order. The province defines public beaches as:
Public beaches include any public bathing area owned/operated by a municipality to which the general public has access, and where there is reason to believe that there is recreational use of the water (e.g., beach signage, sectioned off swimming area, water safety/rescue equipment, lifeguard chairs, etc.), which may result in waterborne illness or injury as determined by the local medical officer of health.
Recreational Water Protocol, 2018
On the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, the Government of Ontario enacted the Declaration of Emergency on 17 March 2020. The Declaration of Emergency has been extended several times. The latest extension is in place until 30 June 2020. Click here to access the orders, and all extensions.
On 9 May 2020 the provincial government eased restrictions on public spaces. The public can now access Ontario Provincial Parks and Conservation areas for day use, though beaches in Provincial Parks remain closed. Beaches in some municipalities will also remain closed until at least 30 June 2020.
Official beaches in municipalities, Ontario Provincial Parks, and conservation areas are considered “outdoor recreational amenities.” Municipal and provincial beach programs, including recreational water quality monitoring and lifeguarding programs, are currently suspended. The suspension of these programs will likely be in place until beaches are opened. Beach closures may be extended in June, or this restriction may be lifted.
Please note that the province defines a beach closure as follows :
Beach Closure: to cause restriction/elimination of public access to a beach or specific beach areas where a significant risk to health and safety has been identified. The board of health will direct the owner/operator of the beach to post signage and/or erect barriers/barricades at appropriate locations to reduce the risk of public exposure to the health hazard.
At your local beach, or at the beach you are hoping to visit, you can often still access the beach. Closures can mean the parking lots are closed. Washrooms, change rooms, and other beach facilities are closed. In certain beaches, access to the water is restricted with barriers or signs. Beaches are not maintained or supervised.
Still, at certain beaches the public can walk through and enjoy active visits to beaches, boardwalks, and waterfront trails.
Green spaces in parks, trails, ravines and conservation areas that aren’t otherwise closed would remain open for walkthrough access, but individuals must maintain a safe physical distance of at least two metres apart from others.
Government of Ontario, 30 March 2020
Always check your municipal and city pages for specific location details.
Notably, beaches in Toronto are accessible. However, Toronto’s beaches are closed under the City’s definition, meaning the beaches are not supervised or maintained, and the washrooms and other facilities are closed. Notably, there are no lifeguards on duty, and swimming is discouraged. Click here to access specific information on enjoying Toronto Beaches during the pandemic.
If you are considering swimming and other recreational water activities, remember that there are no lifeguards on duty at this time. You, your family, and friends will not have assistance on-site if you get into trouble in the water. Make sure to choose your activity based on your skill level, never swim alone. When in doubt stay out of the water. You will need to call emergency services in case of an emergency.
Provincial Park beach closures
All buildings and facilities including washrooms, water taps, campgrounds, backcountry campsites, roofed accommodations, playgrounds, and beaches continue to be closed.
Government of Ontario, 9 May 2020
We’ve updated all Ontario beaches in the Swim Guide with this information. Click on our Ontario region page here.
The beach closures, along with the closure of outdoor recreational amenities were ordered as part of the extended declaration of emergency to stop the spread of COVID-19 by encouraging people to stay home, practice physical distancing, and avoid social gatherings.
You can absolutely contract Covid-19 if you head to the beach, river, or lake. At the beach, if you are exposed to the respiratory secretions (coughing and sneezing) of an infected person, you can get sick. Beaches, like any crowded public place, put you at risk of contracting the virus. If you are infected and head to the beach, you will further spread the virus.
The virus is transmitted primarily person to person, within about 6 feet (2 meters) through respiratory droplets produced when someone sick coughs or sneezes. In other words, at the beach, you’re most at risk of contracting the virus from being too close to other people. Swimming is not where the risk lies.
To date, scientific evidence and medical research point to there being an extremely low risk of contracting Covid-19 by swimming or recreating in fresh or marine bodies of water.
“There is no evidence showing anyone has gotten COVID-19 through drinking water, recreational water, or wastewater. The risk of COVID-19 transmission through water is expected to be low.”
– Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Click here for what we know from the international research community concerning coronavirus transmission in fresh and marine water bodies.
Recreational water quality monitoring is currently suspended at all Ontario beaches. This may change in June. If and when beaches open for the summer season in Ontario, recreational water monitoring will become an essential service so as to protect public health. Please check back here frequently for the most up to date information, or check with your local health unit.
Public health units have reported that their efforts are directed, first and foremost, to the Covid-19 pandemic. Recreational water quality monitoring at public beaches is not considered essential at this time and therefore monitoring by the provinces’ health units has not begun.
Ontario’s essential services list includes categories relevant to recreational water monitoring, the main being item “34.v.” under Community Services: “Environmental rehabilitation, management and monitoring, and spill clean-up and response.”
The impacts of Covid-19 mean that the opening of beaches for swimming at municipally-owned public beaches for the 2020 summer season will be delayed.
Public health officials are required under the 2018 Recreational Water Quality Protocol to conduct the preseason water samples and complete the annual Environmental Health and Safety Surveys at all public beaches at the start of every monitoring season. The Covid-19 pandemic has delayed these critical first steps to opening public beaches.
We expect health units and monitoring bodies across Ontario to clarify the start date to their monitoring season in the coming weeks.
Follow all the guidelines set out by your local government, as well as the provincial government’s order. Always practice social distancing, whenever you head outside to exercise and enjoy Ontario’s spectacular water bodies and natural spaces.
Do not go out if you have symptoms of COVID-19, if you suspect you have been exposed to the virus, or if you have recently returned from travelling and are under self-quarantine.
If you are healthy and able to go out, always follow the advice of health professionals on getting outside during the pandemic while practicing social distancing.
Recently, the Government of Ontario eased these restrictions on provincial parks and conservation reserves. These spaces reopened for limited day use starting 10 May 2020. In major cities like Toronto, more space is being created to allow people to bike, walk, and exercise safely while keeping their distance. Beaches remain closed.
Green spaces in parks, trails, ravines and conservation areas are beginning to reopen for walkthrough access. However, always check websites before visiting. Many conservation authorities now require a reservation before visiting.
Regardless of where you are getting outside, always maintain a safe physical distance of at least two metres from others. The Federal Government recommends you wear a mask when you are unable to keep the social distance from others.
Click on any health unit to access their beach water quality monitoring page.
North Western Health Unit – Dryden, Ear Falls, Fort Frances, Ignace, Kenora, Lake of the Woods, Rainy River, Red Lake, Sioux Lookout, Sioux, Narrows, Vermilion Bay
Brant Public Health Unit – Grand River Conservation Authority
Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health – Grand River Conservation Authority
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