A grey, cool day did not deter Winnipeggers from enjoying playgrounds, skateparks or even a round of golf as the city and province eased COVID-19 restrictions.
Monday marks the first day of Phase 1 of the Manitoba government’s reopening strategy, which allows some non-essential businesses to reopen, as well as outdoor recreational facilities, including golf courses.
At a quiet park in Charleswood, the Streuber family swung from the monkey bars, dug in the sandbox and took in bit of a normalcy.
“It feels really great,” said Kimberly Streuber.
The mother of three said it’s been difficult for her children, ages 2, 4, and 6, to understand why their neighbourhood playground has been closed for five weeks. But Streuber admits her excitement is not without hesitation.
“I reminded the kids that the germs are still here and when we go home we’ll wash our hands and not to touch our faces — it’s hard with kids — and just bringing hand sanitizer with us.”
At nearby Michael Komenda Memorial Skate Park, a handful of kids took the ramps on bikes and scooters, while parents breathed a sigh of relief.
“We just thought it would be great opportunity to get out and just free ourselves from being at home for the last few months,” said Craig Johnston, father of two. “It feels like freedom.”
Shaenagh James said while she is still uneasy about the idea of visiting stores, restaurant patios and hair salons, being outside at the skatepark was what she and her six-year-old son Liam needed.
“It’s nice,” she said. “He was a little scared at first because there’s other kids around, but it’s just nice to see some other faces.”
Meanwhile, golfers hit the links as courses reopened amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“[It’s an] exciting day, being that it’s the opening day of the year. Obviously it’s a privilege that we get to play golf,” said Steve Wood, director of golf at St. Boniface Golf Club.
Though courses are open, there are still public health protocols that they must follow. At St. Boniface, the reception process for players is a big change, Wood said.
“Normally, they just come in and kind of start milling about, and putt around and warm up,” he said, but now, the club is asking players to show up no more than 20 minutes early for their tee time.
Players were delayed starting Monday morning because of frost on the grass, Wood said.
Pre-pandemic, people would have been allowed to go into the clubhouse, have a coffee and wait.
That could not happen Monday, however, as golf courses’ clubhouses and restaurants are not allowed to open except for patios.
St. Boniface golf club has checkpoints set up that each player must attend before starting. Once a player arrives, there is a disinfectant station where the player’s golf bag and push cart will be sanitized, Wood said.
Then, club staff will ask the player some health questions to ensure no one playing has been travelling or is symptomatic.
Once a player is cleared, staff take the player’s clubs out of their vehicle and place them into a golf cart. The player will be called when it’s time to approach the first tee.
In addition to the sanitization and screening, the golf club has put more time between tee times, to reduce the number of people arriving at one time and the likelihood of groups of players catching up to one another while playing, Wood said.
“[I’m] excited and relieved at the same time,” Wood said about reopening. “With the uncertainty, who knew when we would start?
“I had a gut feeling we would have a fairly normal golf season as far as length and duration, but maybe different as far as how it’s going to feel.”
There are changes on the course as well. To reduce touch points, flag pins at each hole are not being removed and there are covers over each hole.
Ball washing stations and rakes in sand bunkers have been removed. Motorized golf carts are limited to one person each unless players are from the same household. There are no tee markers, but there is coloured paint indicating where players should hit.
St. Boniface normally can accommodate a maximum of 400 people in a day, but that has been cut in half.
The course almost reached its 200-player limit on Monday, Wood said.
One of those players was Gerry Tessier, who called St. Boniface Golf Club as soon as it was announced they could open and booked the first tee time on opening day.
“I’m careful, but I’m not paranoid,” he said, citing the 38 active cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba.
The pandemic has driven Tessier “stir crazy,” he said, because he’s been trying to limit the amount of time he’s out and about. So he was excited to be able to play Monday, even if he had to wait a bit longer to start.
“I’m a lousy golfer,” he said. “I just enjoy the company and getting some exercise.”
Tessier said following health protocols should not be a problem while playing, nor quash his fun.
“If you’re six feet apart, you can have your conversation, catch up on what people did over the winter and all of those kinds of things,” he said.
“As soon as you hit your ball — somebody here, somebody there — you’ve got [physical] distancing just by lousy golf anyway.”
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