Longtime Newmarket resident Tania DeVries was surprised and disappointed that local playgrounds didn’t reopen July 24 as they were permitted to do under the third and final stage of the province’s pandemic reopening plan.
When DeVries and her youngest son turned up at Armstrong Family Park on Joe Persechini Drive on July 27 for an outing with a neighbourhood friend and his mom, they found a town employee retaping the space as off-limits.
“I was so excited to take my youngest son to the playground and, like many, I thought the playgrounds would be open since we are in stage 3,” said DeVries, adding that neighbouring Aurora reopened all of its playgrounds last Friday. “The boys were disappointed. I brought sanitizer with me and I was going to wipe down the equipment before they used it.”
A frustrated town worker told DeVries that some residents have been tearing down the closed signs and removing the yellow tape from the playground equipment, and were resisting when asked to leave the area.
“Earlier in the day, there were residents on the playground and when the workers told them they had to leave, they said, ‘Are you going to make our kids cry’?” she said.
The Summerhill neighbourhood mom believes some residents may be genuinely confused about the status of Newmarket’s playgrounds as it’s not clear on the town’s website which ones will reopen and when or for how long others will remain closed.
“We’re all willing to do our part, but we need to know what the parameters are and we need better communication about what’s open and what isn’t,” said DeVries.
“Everything opened in some towns on Friday, but it wasn’t clear that Newmarket wasn’t ready. It’s causing conflict with the workers and they’re getting backlash, and that shouldn’t be,” she said.
DeVries said the town employee asked the residents to have patience since the pandemic has strained the town’s financial and staff resources.
“I was OK with the playground not being open when it was explained to me, and I can understand that they couldn’t hire the summer workers this year they usually do, and that they’re losing a lot of money from having to retape the playgrounds over and over again because people keep taking them down,” said DeVries.
“But there’s a lot of young families in our town and there’s a lot of confusion,” she said. “If people are taking the tape down and it’s not yet safe to be there, that’s not a good way to behave.”
In an interview with NewmarketToday, Mayor John Taylor addressed the confusion about the reopening of the town’s playgrounds.
The good news, Taylor said, is that all of Newmarket’s playgrounds will reopen by this Saturday, Aug. 1.
It took some time to coordinate the printing and installation of signage reminding parents and children of the safety measures that remain in place during the pandemic, such as the importance of physical distancing and using hand sanitizer before and after play, said Taylor.
The town’s parks ambassadors and bylaw staff will also be out at local playgrounds this weekend to help educate the public about keeping their kids safe.
“I think the confusion is when people hear we are in stage 3, they think that means that everything opens that day, and some communities do it quicker than others,” Taylor said. “But our view is that we’re going to open the playgrounds, and we’re going to do it properly.”
Some communities moved quicker on reopening playgrounds than Newmarket for various reasons, Taylor added, such as Aurora and Bradford. But the Ontario government has recognized that local health units and individual municipalities have the latitude to treat certain aspects of reopening differently.
“I’ll be blunt, Newmarket will always take a precautious approach and if that means we open a few days later, then so be it. I will stand by that,” he said. “I think we need to take it slow and cautious, and make sure we open things properly.”
“I would ask the public to continue to be patient with us, know that we’re trying to make sure we do this in a safe manner, and we believe safety should always come first,” he said. “If that takes a few extra days, that’s the way we’ll always approach it.”
Particularly with the playgrounds reopening, Taylor said he continues to be concerned about a potential second wave of COVID-19 in the fall and asks that residents remain vigilant with the public health protocols that have been in place for the past four months.
“No matter what we’re doing, there’s still social distancing, and I would say to parents, bring your own hand sanitizer to the playground,” said Taylor. “We want to be very clear that our playgrounds are not regularly supervised or sanitized. We really still need the public’s cooperation in making things work and work well.”
“We’re still in the midst of a pandemic, we’re still at risk of a second wave of COVID-19, and we need to work together to ensure that our facilities, our services and our economy stays open and can continue to open,” he added.
Newmarket resident Gerry Frenette said his two children, 3 and 4, have been eagerly awaiting the reopening of playgrounds in their London and Bristol roads neighbourhood. However, he has been driving to playgrounds in Aurora and East Gwillimbury since York Region moved into stage 3 on July 24.
“We’ve got three playgrounds within walking distance of our house that we frequented before COVID, and the kids have been asking me throughout this whole pandemic if we can go to the playground, and I told them we have to wait a little while longer,” said Frenette.
“I’m just really happy they decided to move forward and open them up,” Frenette said. “I appreciate what the town is doing for indoor settings, but I didn’t understand the whole delay for the playgrounds because these other communities had done it so much more quickly. When putting up a sign, they just used zip ties, it wasn’t a huge deal.”
If you chose to visit an outdoor playground during the COVID-19 pandemic, York Region’s medical officer of health Dr. Karim Kurji shares this advice to keep kids safe:
- Continue to maintain a physical distance of at least six feet away from anyone not in your household or designated social circle.
- If the playground is too busy to maintain physical distancing, consider taking turns with others or come back at another time when it is less busy.
- In most cases, playgrounds are not supervised or sanitized. Everyone using the playground should wash or sanitize their hands before and after use and avoid touching their eyes, nose or mouth.
- Please do not visit a park or playground area if you are feeling unwell.
- For ongoing updates on COVID-19 in York Region, please visit york.ca/covid19 and for a reminder on playground safety, visit here.
For more information on the town’s response to COVID-19, including what’s open and closed, visit here.