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

Ryan Jake Applegarth of Ponoka, 28, is scheduled to appear at Ponoka Provincial Court on March 12, 2021. (File photo)
Discussions about justice continue as Ponoka murder victims’ court cases proceed

Responses to comments Ponoka Staff Sgt. Chris Smiley made to town council Feb. 9

Alberta Health reported two new COVID-19 deaths in Red Deer Friday. (Image courtesy CDC)
Two more deaths linked to Olymel outbreak in Red Deer

Province reported 356 additional COVID-19 cases Friday

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Edmonton on Feb. 24, 2020. It’s budget day in the province, and Kenney’s United Conservative government is promising more help in the fight against COVID, but more red ink on the bottom line. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta’s budget promises more help for COVID-19 with a hard deficit

Annual spending on debt interest is closing in on $3 billion

Alberta reported an additional 399 cases of COVID-19 Thursday, on 9,217 tests, for a test positivity rate of 4.3 per cent. (Image courtesy CDC)
Red Deer down to 562 active COVID-19 cases

8 new COVID-19 deaths, 399 additional COVID-19 cases

(File photo/Lauren Collins Vana)
Ponoka cat owners have until July 1, 2021 to purchase licenses

Town council passed new Animal Control Bylaw Feb. 23

Bookings for COVID-19 vaccines for people age 75 or older start Wednesday. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Updated: Delays for seniors booking for vaccine appointments

By 9:20 a.m. Wednesday, 4,500 seniors had booked their appointments

A ” Justice for Jeff” T-shirt. (Photo submitted)
Rally to be held outside courthouse for slain Ponoka man

At what may be the last opportunity for Jeffery Kraft of Ponoka… Continue reading

A helicopter flies past a mountain near McBride, B.C., on Saturday January 30, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Avalanche warning for backcountry users in North and South Rockies

Avalanche Canada is urging backcountry users to always check their regional avalanche forecasts

Supporters pray outside court in Stony Plain, Alta., on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, as a trial date was set for Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church. He is charged with holding Sunday services in violation of Alberta’s COVID-19 rules and with breaking conditions of his bail release. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Trial date for jailed Alberta pastor charged with breaking COVID-19 health orders

The court says it will reconvene with lawyers on March 5 for a case management plan by teleconference

A pharmacist prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at Village Green Retirement Campus in Federal Way on Jan. 26. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
Canada approves use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine

The country joins more than a dozen others in giving the shot the green light

Emily Keeping of Wetaskiwin, Alta., was last seen at 4:20 p.m. on Feb. 25, 2021 at the FasGas on 49 St and 50 Ave in Wetaskiwin. Supplied/ Wetaskiwin RCMP.
UPDATE: Wetaskiwin RCMP seek assistance in locating missing 11-year-old

Emily Keeping was last seen on Feb. 25, 2021 at the FasGas on 49 St and 50 Ave in Wetaskiwin.

Sylvan Lake's Winter Village lured many visitors to the town this winter. The town has launched a new contest to attract a new business.
(Black Press file photo)
Sylvan Lake offering rent-free storefront space to lure new businesses

Winning business proposal will get a storefront space rent-free for a year

Alberta premier Jason Kenney, right and Doug Schweitzer, Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, provide details about Bill 13, the Alberta Senate Election Act., in Edmonton Alta, on Wednesday June 26, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Minister Doug Schweitzer talks on Enhanced COVID-19 Business Benefit

Provincial government rolling out new benefit this April to better help small businesses.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
NDP will not trigger election as long as pandemic continues: Singh

‘“We will vote to keep the government going’

Most Read