woman on a paddleboard on a lake

Staying safe at the cottage

With so much amazing weather to enjoy, it’s a great summer to share your cottage with friends and family. But doing that can bring risks.

While it feels like the pandemic is winding down, public health officials warn that we still have a long road ahead of us. It was only two weeks ago that Muskoka entered stage three of the provincial reopening strategy. Toronto and some other areas are still in stage two.

One of the biggest challenges right now is that things are starting to feel a little more like normal. It’s easy to bend the rules a bit, and then bend them a bit more. People are starting to have parties again, or getting laxer about social distancing, or adding just a few more people to the 10-person social circle – each of whom has a different social circle.

Having guests is one of the great joys of summer for many cottage owners. The cottage is the gathering place for families. Whether the gathering consists of a few big family get-togethers or a series of weekend guests all summer long, socializing is as much a part of cottaging as boat rides and barbecues.

Fortunately, we can still spend time with friends and family; we just need to do it safely.

The biggest challenge at the cottage is maintaining social distance. Most decks are large enough that we can all sit six feet apart outdoors, but indoors is another matter. It’s almost impossible to keep that same barrier with overnight guests. For many people, that’s going to mean that this is the year to withhold the invitation to come up for the weekend.

One option is to help your friends find an alternative place to stay – hotels and bed and breakfasts have adopted intensive cleaning and safety protocols. Have your guests to the cottage for the day when you can all be outside with lots of room, knowing they can return to their own sleeping quarters that night.

road sign with safety messages

This may mean limiting the alcohol consumption, since people will need to drive. But that’s probably not a bad thing anyway – after a few drinks, it’s harder than ever to remember to keep your distance.

The boat is another place where distance is hard to maintain. If part of the cottage weekend involves going for a boat cruise or taking everyone out for an afternoon of tubing or waterskiing, consider limiting the number of people on board. If you have to have a larger group on board and distancing is impossible, masks are still an effective option – it may feel odd, but everything about this summer is odd.

Another option is to plan alternative water activities where everyone can have their own space. Kayaks and stand-up paddleboards are perfect. If you don’t have enough, though, be aware: many stores report being sold out of kayaks for weeks. Inflatable floaties are another option that may be easier to find, and less expensive.

If your boating involves using a public boat launch or visiting a marina, remember to keep a distance from the other people using it. Many boat launches have fairly narrow docks, so it’s impossible to pass someone without sharing their space. Pull on your mask before you step ashore or wait for others to clear the dock before you move, and everything will be fine.

The same goes for any interaction with others, including workers who are coming to do work at the cottage. Most locals are very aware that the rate of infection in the GTA is much higher than it is in Muskoka, so people may be nervous around cottagers. Wearing a mask and maintaining your distance will be greatly appreciated by everyone you encounter – and will encourage them to do the same if they have forgotten.

And don’t forget to keep a few extra masks and some hand sanitizer on hand, including in the boat. Most stores now have signs requiring you to wear a mask before you enter, and the vast majority of people are complying.

These are inconveniences, but we’re all in this together. The more we do to prevent the spread, the less likely it is that a second wave of the virus will push us all back into lockdown later this year.

Top photo by Leonard J Matthews

Posted in Around Muskoka.