Ahead of the Victoria Day long weekend, Toronto’s medical officer of health is urging people not to venture out of town unnecessarily.

“I know many are looking forward to spending time outdoors and typically would consider a trip out of town to the cottage or to go camping,” de Villa said at the city’s daily briefing. “At this time, given our current circumstances, please avoid any non-essential trips out of town to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

De Villa said that while progress is being made in reducing the spread of the virus, travelling outside of the city risks spreading COVID-19 in smaller communities where local hospitalsmay not be as well equipped to handle cases.

“For this reason, I ask that you consider spending this long weekend at home here in Toronto. This will reduce the risk of virus spread and it is also a great way to support our local businesses,” she said.

There is no provincial prohibition on visiting cottages. However mayors from numerous Ontario cottage areas have implored people not to visit their vacation properties unnecessarily amid the pandemic. Public health officials have expressed concern that people travelling from the GTA, which has been most impacted by the virus, could unwittingly transport the virus to smaller communities.   

Premier Doug Ford recently sparked controversy with an admission that he drove to his cottage to check on the plumbing.

While de Villa encouraged people to get out and enjoy the outdoors close to home, she advised people to continue social distancing and avoiding gatherings.

“Please avoid close contact with others outside your home and do not make plans to meet up with friends –it is not time for that yet,” de Villa said. “While you may feel healthy, you may unknowingly transmit the virus to others.”

De Villa advised people to wear a cloth mask or face covering in situations where physical distancing cannot be maintained.

“I know this is difficult, especially as the weather gets nicer, but we need to stay the course with our physical distancing and public health measures,” she said.

Public health data gathered as of Wednesday afternoon show that there have been 648 COVID-19 deaths in Toronto so far. Currently there are 8,097 active cases in the city and 5,851 people have recovered.

De Villa’s advice to stay the course on infection prevention measures comes as the province announced Thursday that golf courses and marinas will be permitted to reopen on Saturday.

Mayor John Tory said Thursday that city-run golf courses will be open as well.

“We are ready and will open city-owned golf courses starting Saturday, subject to rules and practices which won’t be golf as usual, but which should nonetheless bring joy to all the duffers out there who have been waiting for golf courses to open,” Tory said.

He said signs at the golf courses will advise people to maintain physical distancing by keeping at least two golf clubs apart.

Tory said the city is also ready to reopen off-leash dog parks as soon as Saturday if the province gives the go-ahead.

He noted that the city’s parks have been open throughout the pandemic, even though outdoor amenities are closed.

However an emergency bylaw prohibiting people who don’t live together from being closer than six feet apart in Toronto’s parks and squares remains in effect.

Tory said that while some venues and businesses are starting to be allowed to reopen, the city will continue to move forward slowly and cautiously to avoid a second wave of infections.  

“We have made it through nine weeks of this lockdown and no one wants to see us right back in a shutdown again because we didn’t place public health first,” Tory said.