As southern Manitoba swelters, people warned to use pools, splash pads for heat relief only — not recreation

One of Manitoba’s top doctors is warning people against flocking to splash pads and pools if they’ve got other options to find relief from the heat wave. 

“If you have air conditioners, a pool or a sprinkler at home, the community pool or splash pads are not to be used as a family outing,” Dr. Jazz Atwal, deputy chief provincial public health officer, said on Friday as the temperature in Winnipeg hit 36 C.

The provincial government made a few minor amendments to its public health orders this week in anticipation of the heat, which reached 40 C in some southern Manitoba communities.

The mercury is forecast to return to the mid-30C range on Saturday while daytime highs for at least the next week are expected to remain around 29 C, according to Environment Canada.

Heat like that can have serious effects on physical health, mental well-being and cognitive ability, Atwal said. And with Manitoba’s health-care system burdened by COVID-19, there is little room for that added strain.

WATCH | ‘This isn’t about recreation’: Atwal on adjustment to health orders for heat relief:

Dr. Jazz Atwal, deputy chief provincial public health officer, said Friday a recent change to pandemic restrictions to allow operation of splash pads and pools is intended to help vulnerable people stay cool in the extreme heat. He urged people who have access to other tools, like air conditioning or private sprinklers, not to use them to pass the time. 1:07

“In a pandemic, with COVID restrictions, we have on top of that a heat wave. We have to worry about that,” he said.

In order to provide relief, the health orders were adjusted to allow municipalities to repurpose facilities like libraries and community centres as cooling centres.

“This provides an opportunity to cool down, to maybe access an air conditioned centre to sit, to cool down for a period of time, and leave and then go back home,” Atwal said.

The modified orders have also allowed for taps to be turned on at spray pads, outdoor swimming pools and wading pools at community centres, hotels, campgrounds and other private businesses.

While they are a tempting place to congregate for an afternoon, that is not their purpose, Atwal said.

Public health orders in Manitoba have been amended to allow municipalities to repurpose facilities like libraries and community centres as cooling centres, and to allow taps to be turned on at spray pads and pools. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

They are intended for vulnerable people at high risk of heat illness because they have no other options.

“They are not meant to be used recreationally,” Atwal said. “This isn’t a family of four with two parents and two kids, who have air conditioning at home, going to a splash pad.

“This is maybe a single parent or two parents and two kids who live in a home without air conditioning, who don’t have access to sprinklers or something that they’re able to kind of get out and cool down a little bit, to stay for a short time and go back home.”

Restrictions on gatherings continue to apply, Atwal noted.

The current health orders forbid social gatherings between households, indoors and out, except for people who live alone. Museums, churches, gyms and theatres are closed while stores are limited to 10 per cent of normal capacity.

The orders are in effect until at least June 12 and Atwal said he can only envision subtle changes, at best, when the current ones expire.

Kathy McDougall spent the hot afternoon sitting comfortably in a fold-up lawn chair placed in shallow water at Winnipeg Beach. She says it’s the best way to keep cool — though a backyard pool or air conditioning would work too.

McDougall expects there will be many more people at the beach this weekend, but hopes provincial COVID-19 enforcement officers do not have to come out, mainly because she says people should be minding the public health orders on their own.

“I don’t know how they would [enforce spacing], really, when you’re obviously going to be so close,” she said.

“But people still have to get out. People are getting tired of locked up at home.”

Leonard Tiessen made the drive to the beach from Winnipeg Friday. He, too, expects it will be tough to enforce the public health orders over the weekend.

“You can’t ID every single person that comes to the beach, you just can’t,” he said.

A little bit of leeway with restrictions in outdoor settings, such as a beach, could also give Manitobans a mental break this weekend, he added.

“Depending on who you are — either you’ve worked from home, haven’t worked at all — [you] just need a break to get away from everything,” he said.

WATCH | Enforcing the rules on a heat wave weekend:

The hot weather would normally point plenty of Manitobans to the beach, but public health orders are clear – people have to stay within groups that only include their immediate households. How will enforcing the rules look on a weekend where the temperature might break a record? 2:03

Temperatures 40 C and up recorded in southern Manitoba

Natalie Hassell, Environment Canada and Climate Change meteorologist, told CBC News at least three southern Manitoba areas — Gretna, Morden and Emerson — had recorded temperatures of 40 C or above as of 3 p.m. Friday.

The record high for Winnipeg on the date of June 4 is 35.6 C, but a temperature of 36.3 C was recorded at the Winnipeg airport as of 3 p.m., she said.

Hassell expects “a whole bunch of records to be set today,” she said, adding that the official numbers won’t be made available until Saturday morning.

Thunderstorms were in the forecast for southern Manitoba, especially near the Canada-U.S. border, with wind gusts expected to blow up to 110 kilometres per hour. Severe hail, which Environment Canada defines as hail stones two centimetres wide, were also expected, said Hassell.

Winnipeg could see thunderstorms, but it is not expected. Brandon, Man., should not see any thunderstorms, she said.

Hassell says there is always a chance for tornadoes to occur during thunderstorms, but none are expected Friday, she said.

Hassell asks anyone witnessing severe weather to report it to Environment Canada be emailing mbstorm@canada.ca or using #mbstorm when safe to do so.