Skip to content

Wide open spaces

'Few faces, big spaces,' says Dr. Bonnie Henry – so maybe it’s time to re-open big spaces.
Pictured: safe social distancing, currently prohibited.

The big takeaway from Dr. Bonnie Henry’s Tuesday briefing was eight. For the first time in weeks, the number of new COVID-19 cases was in single digits.

You might also have noticed two pieces of advice (and good lines) from our provincial health officer: “few faces, big spaces,” and “outdoors is better than indoors.” In other words, it’s safe to go outside, in small numbers, remaining socially distant from those outside our COVID-19 “bubbles.” Just last week Dr. Henry said the risk of transmitting COVID-19 outdoors is negligible.

Today, Premier John Horgan is expected to announce the first steps toward re-opening the provincial economy. Given Dr. Henry’s advice, is it too late to humbly ask that includes re-opening the biggest spaces of all – provincial parks?

I will admit, this is not entirely unselfish on my part.

I’m typical in that I’m a condo dweller, with a small child, who was used to spending a lot of time outdoors in public spaces.

So if outdoors are unarguably better and healthier than indoors, we need access to places to actually go outdoors. And I think I'm also typical in that "outdoors" isn't the sidewalk in front of my condo, even at the best of times. (And with a tent city, bomb scare, and arrow attack within a block or two of my front door in the last week, these are very much not the best of times in my neighbourhood.)

On one level, it’s hard to see what the holdup is. Provincial parks were closed out of an abundance of caution, but the evidence since then seems to indicate they could be safely re-opened. Parks run by the Capital Regional District have remained open, almost certainly with more traffic than they would have with provincial parks open.

Despite that, CRD parks, and the people who visit them, have remained safe. (Other B.C. cities have closed their parks, prompting complaints.) Enough time has passed to say with confidence there has been no spike in COVID-19 cases from CRD park visitors.

So, again – what’s the holdup?

Part of the problem is a failure to communicate. When someone like me says “let’s re-open provincial parks,” what I’m really saying is “please open parks within an easy drive.” (So, for me, that’s places like Goldstream and Gowlland Tod provincial park.) But what provincial officials hear is “I want your permission to pack up and travel to a park in a remote community.”

This is another thing entirely. And, short of posting guards at parks who check your address, there isn’t a solution. But do we really need one?

One thing above all others has successfully brought down new cases into single digits: trust.

British Columbians have been given good, consistent information, and have overwhelmingly made massive adjustments to their day-to-day lives in a very short amount of time. We shouldn’t fail to appreciate how incredible that is.

That same trust in the intelligence, responsibility, cooperation, and good faith of everyday people is – probably – going to keep most of us safe when provincial parks do re-open.

Yes, there will be some bad apples, cavorting in distant parks in socially undistant ways, away from prying eyes. But there’s bad apples now, cavorting in places like beaches and soccer fields, in full view of prying eyes. (And still, only eight new cases yesterday.) Most likely, there are still more, meeting in unsafe social proximity behind closed doors – but they’re already being irresponsible; worst case, they’ll go on being irresponsible in a safer setting.

So, once more with feeling: can we please re-open provincial parks?

Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca