The city warns against issuing around $ 880 worth of tickets to those who use steep walled staircases for recreation or who fail to follow public health measures in playgrounds.
“We’ll get that through,” Paul Johnson, director of the city’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC), told a health committee meeting Monday. “If people feel like we’re turning away from him and turning a blind eye and throwing our hands up, it won’t … People are being fined.”
The EOC originally closed the walled stairs on Saturday when the province imposed new restrictions on outdoor activities. But it reopened them on Monday for important trips – just to work or medical appointments.
“Are we really going to put statutes and (the) Hamilton Police Service up and down?” asked Coun. Tom Jackson. “I’m worried … about how you’re going to get this and the backlash through.”
Playgrounds have also been closed by the province, but Premier Doug Ford quickly pulled out on Saturday afternoon.
“I was disappointed when people returned to playgrounds without a mask,” said Johnson, adding that “multiple families” sat together without physically distancing themselves on park benches while their children played.
Coun. Maria Pearson said she was “amazed” at the number of people who apparently came into contact with people from other households over the weekend without masks or physical distance.
“Masks should be worn everywhere, she said. “Should we address this in our statutes?”
While the city’s statute does not require outdoor masking, the province does so in certain circumstances. Johnson said the city will use provincial regulations to punish those who don’t physically distance themselves and don’t have masks outside.
The officers are not in playgrounds or stairs 24 hours a day, but visit them at hotspots as part of a regular rotation of enforcement.
“I’m trying to understand the legal authority we have as a city to stop and interview stair users and cyclists. Where do you go, where do you work, prove it,” said Coun. Brad Clark.
Johnson said the city has a legal right to issue tickets when residents use closed facilities like the stairs, pointing out that Hamilton’s attorney is part of the EOC.
Watching who is standing on the stairs to relax is “pretty easy” without being interrogated, he said.
Coun. Esther Pauls pushed back and said, “Recovery and fitness are very important. This is the message we have been given: stay outside and exercise. “
While it is safer outside than inside, Johnson stressed that there is no risk. In addition, the rapidly spreading variants mean that activities that people previously got away with can now cause transmission.
COVID-19 variants account for nearly two-thirds of the most recent cases in Hamilton, and infections have topped the second wave and climbing.
Johnson argues that steep walled stairs pose a higher risk than other outdoor recreational activities because it is difficult to physically distance oneself. They attract large crowds and people leave their neighborhood to get to them.
“We need mobility in this community to get back to March and April levels – very few cars on the road, very few people on the move,” said Johnson. “We are actually in a worse position, but we have more people than ever before.”
When asked how many infections were caused by steep slopes in the past, health officer Dr. Elizabeth Richardson said it was impossible to know since 30 percent of cases in Hamilton have some unknown cause.
“The question is not whether there have been outbreaks or large-scale cases associated with these activities because the answer to that … would be that there aren’t,” Johnson said. “This is about staying home and staying close to home.”