I Want To Go To The Cottage This Summer — Is That Really Such A Bad Idea?

UPDATE: If you were heading up north for May 24, you may want to rethink your plans. Earlier this week, Doug Ford had said he couldn’t "hold taxpayers back from going to their cottages” and saw no “massive issue” with people heading to cottage country for the holiday weekend. But on May 7, after speaking with some of cottage-country mayors, the Ontario premier has since clarified his stance, asking any visitors to stay away and telling seasonal residents travelling to cottages to “practise the same public health measures as usual, including no public gatherings, avoiding nonessential travel as much as possible, and continue to practice social distancing." Ford added: “There will be plenty of long weekends to come.”
Original story follows.
As the weather gets nicer and the realities of spending the next several weeks (or months!) social-distancing set in, Canadian cottage country is looking better than ever. But is escaping to the great outdoors a good idea? Can I go up north if I BMO groceries, or is cottage season officially cancelled? 

I know I’m not allowed to travel during COVID-19, but is it okay to go up to the cottage?

For city folk with access to a cottage (or farm or log cabin or a lake-side oasis), the option of riding out coronavirus in the great outdoors might sound not just idyllic but advisable. Wide open space means more breathing room (especially for anyone cooped up in an apartment or condo) and less unavoidable proximity to other humans. But before you go hitting the highway…
Our politicos and public-health officials have been definitive on the question of travelling to a second property during the pandemic and the answer, unambiguously, is don’t do it. “#COVID time is not #cottage time. #StayHome and resist the urge to head to the #cottage or a rural setting,” Canada’s Chief Medical Officer, Theresa Tam, tweeted last week. Ontario premier Doug Ford has been nixing northern escapes for a couple of weeks now, saying that he has received a “tremendous” number of calls from full-time residents and municipal leaders in popular cottage areas, concerned about an uptick in visits from off-season cottage owners and day trippers, both of whom are draining valuable resources. 

Okay, so no day trips. But what if you have a cottage and want to isolate there? 

The authorities are advising against this too. And in some cases, taking steps to ensure compliance. In Quebec, for example, the police have set up random checkpoints along the border of Ottawa and Gatineau — a lot of people who live in Ontario want to go to their cottages in Quebec. But, says the Gatineau mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin, “Going to the cottage is not essential,” and unless they have a good reason for inter-provincial travel (say, one person in a household is sick, so you are going to the cottage to isolate from them), people are getting turned around. The mayor of Muskoka has stopped short of banning cottage owners, but has done everything short of that, imploring GTAers to “stay put,” i.e. stay home. Meanwhile, some officials are getting creative, like Huron-Kinloss Mayor Mitch Twolan, who ordered the city to turn off the water at hundreds of cottages as a way to keep seasonal residents away. 

What is the problem exactly? If I’m just going from my home to my car to my cottage, how is that not safe?

The problem, according to hundreds of health professionals whose recommendations inform public policy, is that the idea of “safe travel” is a bit of an oxymoron at the moment. Going to a cottage most likely involves a stop at the gas station and probably additional stops for groceries and other supplies. Which increases your chances of both spreading and contracting the virus. (Sure, you’re just one person and you’ll be super careful, but that’s what everyone is thinking before they break the rules and endanger public safety.) 
Just as importantly, the sudden population spike outside of regular cottage season is creating a huge drain on valuable resources with grocery stores in small communities reporting empty shelves. 

Won’t resources be less of a problem once regular cottage season starts?  

Most popular cottage destinations are used to serving a larger population between late May and early September. But with everything that’s happened over the last month, it’s wrong to assume that supply won’t be an ongoing issue. And even if grocery stores are prepared for a spike in demand, the same can’t be said for hospitals and health-care resources that are already strapped in smaller communities and are in no position to handle an influx of unwell out-of-towners. (Even the ones that pay property taxes.) 

What if I bring my own groceries and return to the city for any medical care?

If only the need for emergency medical care was so predictable. It’s true, you could head home if you started to feel mild flu symptoms, but there have been cases of COVID-19 where the onset is abrupt. And what if you have a non-COVID-19 related emergency: a broken limb, a seizure, a serious BBQ burn. All of those could mean sucking up already-limited resources. As for groceries, well sure, if you want to be that person who decides the rules (and pleas from public-health officials) don’t apply to them, then it’s better to BYO-everything.

What if I quarantine for two weeks before I go?

It seems like maybe there’s a message that isn’t getting across here, but just for the record: Quarantining would only be relevant if you are going to a cottage with other people who don’t live in the same residence as you do. And for reasons that have already been laid out, you shouldn’t be doing this. Note that if your group exceeds five people, you could also get a ticket in Ontario for breaking the rules around maximum gathering number.

Seriously? So I could actually get fined?  

For being more than five people — yes. Police in Ontario have responded to tips about multiple cars parked in the same driveway. For just being at your cottage? Probably not. On Friday, Doug Ford explained that the province isn’t in a position to enforce these kinds of measures, but was sure that the people of Ontario would do the right thing.  

Why am I still seeing rentals on AirBNB?

Presumably because a lot of people still don’t get it. But they will soon, at least in Ontario and Quebec, where governments have restricted short-term rentals to those “who are in need of housing during the emergency period.” That means hosts advertising “cozy COVID-19 retreats” should either take their listings down or risk penalization.

I have a cottage rental booked for August. Surely things will be better by then, right?

The reality is: We have no idea. On Monday, Justin Trudeau said Canadians should be anticipating weeks, if not months, of social-distancing measures, which include staying at your primary residence

So I’m just supposed to stay home all summer. This sucks!

It totally sucks. And you are entitled to feeling sorry for yourself. But then you probably want to shake it off and remember that a lot of people are giving up a lot more than a blissful perch at the end of the dock.

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