Manitobans warned to use pools, splash pads for heat relief only — not for 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.

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)

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.

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.

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