'We could be back at square one': Crowded Vancouver beaches lead to concern ahead of upcoming long weekend
The province is expected to weigh in Monday after a weekend that saw crowds of people flock to popular Metro Vancouver beaches to soak up some sun, which left little room for physical distancing in some areas.
While the province announced last week it is planning to loosen some restrictions soon as it enters the next phase of its COVID-19 response plan, public health officials are still asking people to keep their social circles small and keep their distance from one another.
Despite the park board closing parking lots and bringing in extra staff to encourage people to stay apart, on Sunday, beaches and grassy areas at Kitsilano Beach Park and English Bay were packed.
While some beach-goers were from the same households, others were not.
CTV News cameras saw several groups gathered close together at English Bay Sunday, including a group of six teens sitting side-by-side who confirmed they do not live in the same household.
"If people were really worried about it, they’d stay home," one of the boys told CTV News. "People are going out in public and freaking out that people aren’t social distancing but if you’re that worried about it then stay home yourself."
Vancouver Park Board chair Camil Dumont says he is concerned with some of what he saw on the weekend. He believes the majority of people are physically distancing — but says it’s clear not everyone is being cautious.
"I have seen certain examples of folks that are a little too close for my liking,” Dumont said when asked about the crowding over the weekend. "Yes, things are shifting, but we need to really be careful and keep up the good work of doing this, otherwise we could be back at square one."
He says the crowding issue isn’t just at beaches and parks but also in other areas like grocery stores and sidewalks.
But Dumont admits he is concerned for the upcoming long weekend at Vancouver parks, as he believes some people’s perception about COVID-19 measures may be changing.
"Definitely a little bit of an energetic shift, and an excitement to loosen up a little bit, and I’m not sure that’s a great idea. So, if more people could just stay physically distant, use the park and use the beaches, fine — but do so safely. Don’t go out of your neighbourhood if you can help it, then the better we’re all going to be.”
Family physician Dr. Melissa Lem agrees.
"This crowding was one of the reasons why B.C. put off sharing details about its recovery plan. Once people hear we are heading into the next phase, they get tempted to relax their behaviours right away," Lem told CTV Morning Live. "If we go back to those old habits, we will see another surge."
Dumont says staff are monitoring the situation — but at this point the park board doesn’t have plans to bring in any extra measures for the long weekend.
"There’s no big plan about shifting anything. We aren’t going to close anything, I don’t think," he said.
Dr. Lem is reminding people the crowding over the weekend could lead to potential health impacts some people may not even be thinking about.
"When you’re arriving or leaving, you’re walking past lots of other people. Lots of people are touching surfaces in the public bathrooms nearby. So if the beach looks crowded, please be responsible and go somewhere else," Lem told CTV Morning Live.
Dumont says he is hopeful the weather may help keep people away next weekend, but notes the responsibility is ultimately up to those in the community.
"If you’re getting in your car and driving across town and going to find a little spot of grass at Kits Beach, maybe double think that and consider just giving it a miss. We will all get our beach time down the road, but it might be time to have some short-term pain for long-term gain," he said.
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Ben Miljure