Indoor spaces are more dangerous than outdoors for coronavirus spread

Public outrage ensued after videos and pictures emerged showing thousands of people in Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods Park.

Public outrage ensued after videos and pictures emerged showing thousands of people in Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods Park over the weekend. Officials urged people to follow social distancing rules in order to steer clear of a second wave of COVID-19.

It is not believed that outdoor transmission will be a main reason for a second wave of coronavirus, Global News reports.

Most of Canada's coronavirus outbreaks and deaths have been indoors, specifically in long-term care homes. Of those over 6,500 who have died from the contagion, 81 percent have been among the residents of nursing homes.

Experts like Dr. Alon Vaisman, an infection control and infectious disease physician at University Health Network in Toronto, urges caution. He notes that the turnout at Trinity Bellwoods was concerning, but that most transmissions occur indoors. That is where most of Canada's outbreaks have been identified so far.

"In these public settings and the outdoors, the likelihood of transmission is low still. But if you multiply that out by numerous people, then you're starting to increase the likelihood that something will happen," Vaisman said.

Vaisman said that the severity of the next wave of coronavirus depends mostly on indoor habits, but has concerns that overcrowding in parks could push Toronto back into a situation where higher transmission rates cause stress on the health-care system. Vaisman calls this "the unsafe zone."

"The second wave is inevitable. There’s no doubt about that. And third, fourth, those are all inevitable waves. There’s going to be waves and waves and waves into this. There’s nothing, there's no way to permanently fix that until a vaccine comes around," he said.

"There is a question of how severe it is… And that’s what large gatherings do, they make the waves worse than they have to be."

He added that the federal and provincial governments are partly responsible as they have implied that things will return to normal when the pandemic is over.

It is Vaisman's opinion that, "There are certain things that are just simply never going to come back. A lot of things that we’ve done before — bars, restaurants, concerts, sporting events, they simply are never going to be safe for a long time."

"If you don’t let people know that, then they're inevitably going to behave in such a way that's dangerous because they're just going back to the way things were."

A statement was released by the City of Toronto regarding the "unacceptable" behaviour that took place in Trinity Bellwoods Park over the weekend and warned of a potential coronavirus surge.

"Gatherings like this, where people aren't keeping their distance from others, run the risk of setting Toronto back significantly in its efforts to stop the transmission of COVID-19," read the statement.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also addressed the crowds, reminding people to wear masks if they are able to keep two meters apart.

Associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, Dr. Susan J. Bondy says it is still unclear precisely how dangerous the actions are because we are still learning about the effects of coronavirus in different environmental settings "but there is really good reason to be concerned."

Bondy called the size of the Toronto park crowds "disturbing" due to the large number of cases in Ontario.

In the images, many people can be seen seated closer than two metres apart, some people were shouting and singing while others were exercising. These are all actions that Bondy associates with "clear outbreaks" around the world.

However, most of the outbreaks worldwide have not been at outdoor public gatherings, but inside. Super spreader events have happened at indoors at live concerts, zumba classes, nursing homes, aboard cruise ships, and at workship services, to name a few.

Bondy said that as the virus is transmitted, many people will remain asymptomatic for days before seeing symptoms.

"If somebody in that crowd was infectious but thought it was just seasonal allergies or if somebody was in that crowd and is about to get symptoms themselves in a couple of days, others will have been exposed."

Bondy noted that until a vaccine is developed, there will be an "unknown, untold number" of local outbreaks and flare-ups as opposed to waves. "This kind of event is exactly the kind of thing that leads to larger outbreaks," she said.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist said that the park gathering was "counterproductive."

"This is clearly not how people should be behaving in the course of a pandemic," he said.

"But if that one event was truly isolated to Trinity Bellwoods, as is hopefully the case, then hopefully this does not amount to a large explosion of cases and hopefully given the tremendous public outcry toward the scenes that were shared widely throughout the country, hopefully that's enough to prevent scenes like that from happening again."

Ontario Premier Doug Ford noted his dismay at the gathering, but said that the entire province would not be punished for the ill-actions of a few Torontonians, because that would be unfair.