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COVID-19: Bending the rules to go to the cottage? Here’s how to be safe

Health professionals say it should be relatively easy to maintain social distancing at the cottage

When the coronavirus pandemic first began, the advice was to stay put.

Public health officials unanimously agreed that it was safest for everyone if Canadians didn’t travel to their cottages, cabins or summer homes until the threat of spreading the virus had significantly lessened.

Now, as the weather gets warmer and provinces like Ontario begin to allow short-term rentals, including lodges, cabins, cottages, homes and condos, Canadians are wondering if they’re allowed to head north and, if so, how can they do it without spreading COVID-19?

The top worry for health officials is people who live in densely populated cities with high rates of COVID-19 moving into smaller, more rural communities where the virus may not exist yet, said Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto.

“There’s a lot of COVID-19, relatively speaking, in Toronto and very little in cottage country (north of the city),” Furness said.

“It’s not so much about protecting oneself … it’s really about protecting where you’re going and not bringing COVID-19 with you.”

For that reason, if you do plan to leave the city for a northern retreat, you have a “real responsibility” to be vigilant about what you do while you’re there, Furness said.

Hypothetically, it should be relatively easy to maintain social distancing at the cottage, said Dr. Stan Houston, a professor of medicine at the University of Alberta.

“When people are going to their cabin, they’re going to be mostly outdoors and in small groups, away from high-density populations,” Houston said.

“It should be a relatively low-risk situation, but the devil is in the details.”

The good news: there are some easy steps you can take to minimize your impact on the community where your cottage or cabin is located.

The first step is to eliminate one of the riskiest behaviours known to spread COVID-19 ⁠— grocery shopping. Furness says you should pick up anything you want to eat or drink in the city where you live full time before leaving.

“Bringing your own food and your own stuff to drink and not going to any grocery stores, (liquor stores) or drug stores is the No. 1 thing,” Furness said.

“The less contact the better.”

Once you’re on the road, there are some things you can do to protect yourself ⁠— especially if you need to stop for gas or use a bathroom.

“For whatever road stops you might need to do on the way … you want to have hand sanitizer for going to the bathroom, touching doorknobs,” Furness said. “Be absolutely mindful around practising good hand hygiene.”

Houston also recommends the use of a mask for “any interaction indoors.”

“Wearing a mask not only reduces risk but shows people you’re taking people’s concerns seriously,” Houston said.

If your cottage or cabin is on a lake, you’re probably going to have to visit the marina to get your boat.

It can be easy to forget the rules around physical distancing at the marina, Furness said, but it’s important that you remain vigilant at all times.

“Keep your eyes open for the marina’s rules around social distancing,” Furness said. “There will be a different way of doing things in terms of where you park (your boat), talking to marina staff, getting gas.”

Be really careful on docks or in other narrow spaces. You’ll be tempted to follow “sidewalk etiquette,” but you can’t just step off out of the way or you’ll fall in the lake.

And finally, while the cottage or cabin is usually a place to spend time with friends you haven’t seen over the winter months, that is not the case right now.

“Now is not the time to be social,” Furness said. “Don’t go anywhere you can’t maintain social distancing.”

Houston notes that often alcohol is involved in cottage getaways, which can compromise a person’s commitment to social distancing and handwashing, something “people should keep in mind.”

The rules of the city still apply, Furness said.

“If you can have socially distanced porch parties or barbecues, then yes, but it’s just like everywhere else,” Furness said.

If at any point you begin to feel sick while away at the cottage, Houston says you should return to the city where you live full time.

“If you’re not so desperately ill that you can’t afford a delay, you better go back to your own city or town for a whole lot of reasons,” Houston said.

“If there were a perception that the health-care system in small communities was being overrun by sick tourists, that would be a bad outcome for everybody.”

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus.

In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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