Experts say tobogganing during the pandemic is totally safe

Experts say tobogganing during the pandemic is  totally safe
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TORONTO -- With many across the country stuck under various lockdown measures, some tired of being indoors may find themselves looking for some outdoor fun, including tobogganing.

Some cities across Canada, including Edmonton , are promoting tobogganing on public hills as a fun winter activity.

But is tobogganing a safe activity amid the current rise in COVID-19 cases in Canada?

"It s safe, totally safe," Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases consultant at Toronto General Hospital, told in an interview.

Bogoch did list some small caveats: "Outside, with your family unit, and split apart from others, it s totally safe."

Dr. Iris Gorfinkel, a Toronto-based general practitioner and founder of PrimeHealth Clinical Research, said that when it comes to evaluating whether or not an activity is safe to participate in during the pandemic, it boils down to the risk of transmission.

"In essence, the question is really a version of: How often does (COVID-19) spread via tobogganing? " Gorkinkel said. "And the answer is: Probably, almost never."

"The risk of head injury is higher," she added.

That said, city enforcement officers in Edmonton are patrolling areas such as public parks where people toboggan to ensure that public health restrictions are being followed while people play in the snow.

Mary Sturgeon, a spokesperson for the City of Edmonton, told by email that "The City encourages people to get outside and enjoy the many winter activities Edmonton has to offer while staying safe and adhering to public health restrictions."

"Compliance to public health restrictions remains high, and overall, people are being respectful while trying to navigate these restrictions," Sturgeon writes.

When it comes to masks, however, answers vary.

Bogoch said wearing masks isn t necessary because risk of transmission is so low outdoors, as long as physical distancing measures can be maintained.

But Gorfinkel recommends wearing a mask at all times going up and down the toboggan hill, because while the risk of transmission is low, "it s hard to predict these things perfectly," and experts "can t say zero."

"It s also a lot more comfortable to wear it, especially when it s sub-zero temperatures," Gorfinkel said. "So there are several reasons to wear a mask, and personal comfort is on that list."

The City of Toronto s public health website recommends wearing a mask to and from the park, but does not specify that a mask must be worn while participating in outdoor activities unless the facility specifically requires it, or unless physical distancing cannot be maintained.

While tobogganing is generally considered a safe outdoor activity, with lockdown measures across the country limiting what Canadians can do over the holidays, many families may be headed outdoors and to public spaces.

And while it may take a lot of effort to bundle up the kids and lug the toboggans to the park, city officials and experts say if the hill looks crowded or busy, it s best to turn around and head home.

"Obviously it s time to revisit it if you don t think you can maintain physical distancing," Bogoch said.

The City of Edmonton asks that people "use their judgement when outdoors and to consider engaging in an alternate activity if they feel a particular area is overcrowded," Sturgeon said in an email.

Both health experts added that the health benefits of getting outdoors greatly outweigh the low risk of transmission.

"The emotional benefits of being outdoors are tremendous," Gorfinkel said. "It actually reduces anxiety, it reduces stress, it reduces anger, it reduces depression. Physical activity outside improves quality and quantity of sleep, and sleep is associated with several immune benefits."

Tobogganing is especially great for kids who have been out of school on winter break and, depending on lockdown restrictions in their province or territory, next week, Gorkinkel said.

Because the risk of transmission is so low outdoors, Bogoch said activities like tobogganing "should actually be encouraged."

"It s great," he said. "You get fresh air, you get exercise, and if you stay within your family unit and are spread apart from others, this is the lowest of low risk activities. There s a lot of positives here."
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