VANCOUVER -- With local health officials encouraging residents to spend more time outside during the novel coronavirus pandemic, Metro Vancouver's regional parks have seen a dramatic increase in visits compared to last year. 

Data release by Metro Vancouver shows there was a 61 per cent increase in visits last month compared to May 2019. In April, the increase was even higher at 67 per cent.

Officials have stressed that not only is COVID-19 less likely to transmit outdoors, particularly when people are spread out, but spending time in nature can help reduce stress and maintain physical and mental well-being.

During an update on virus modelling in April, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry shared Google mobility data for B.C. That data showed dramatic spikes in park use during the first couple of months of the pandemic, while visits to grocery stores, transit stations, workplaces and retail decreased.

B.C. COVID-19 dataAnd while more people have spent time outside, Metro Vancouver says its regional parks staff members have increased their interaction with the public to remind people about physical distancing.

Since that campaign began in April, staff members have interacted with the public more than 121,887 times to encourage people to keep a safe distance. 

But even as more people are visiting local parks, Metro Vancouver is reminding residents to stay close to home, comply with any closures, sanitize hands frequently and, above all else, stay home if they're sick.