Sports, Recreation and Being Active During COVID-19

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Last revised on November 10, 2021

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Being active during COVID-19

Know your risks

Certain groups are at a higher risk for COVID-19 (e.g., older adults, people with weakened immune systems or people with chronic health conditions) and should take extra precautions.  Activities have high to low levels of risk when it comes to spreading the virus.  It is important to note that there is no such thing as zero risk.

Activities such as sports, and recreation activities are high risk for COVID-19 transmission due to close contact, heavy breathing during activity, and often in indoor spaces.  It is important to note that although measures can be taken to ensure participation is as safe as possible, there will still be a risk for COVID-19 while participating.

Ottawa Public Health advocates for individuals to make informed decisions as to whether they engage in various activities.

Sport and Social Cluster, September 2021

One person with COVID-19 played an organized sport game (GAME 1) outdoors. The next day they developed symptoms of COVID-19. This person delayed testing and attended a social gathering and school while experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. An additional person with COVID-19 symptoms, who did not attend GAME 1, attended a social event with players from GAME 1. Both individuals delayed COVID-19 testing after developing symptoms and had not received a COVID-19 vaccine. This led to 26 people testing positive for COVID-19 (and that number is continuing to rise) over a 23-day period:

  • 247 high-risk contacts
  • 5 high schools impacted and 13 cohorts dismissed
  • 1 long-term care home impacted

Additional background:

  • All individuals confirmed to have COVID-19 had not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, though all met age-based eligibility criteria for vaccination.
  • Five individuals attended school and other community settings while symptomatic and delayed testing for more than five days after having symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Players in GAME 1 did not wear masks or maintain physical distance.
  • The social gathering was held indoors, mask usage and physical distancing was inconsistent. Two individuals attended the social gathering while experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.
  • This graphic shows transmission up to September 23. Transmission continues in the community. By September 30, transmission spread to include an additional 11 people testing positive for COVID-19, 217 more high-risk contacts and led to the closure of an elementary school.

  • All transmission shown in schools and sports games involves youth over the age of 12.

  • To avoid double counting the number of people with COVID-19, individuals are only shown in the setting they were initially exposed to the virus and not counted again in locations they attended following transmission.

  • The number of contacts at each setting reflects the total number of people present. Some individuals were present at more than one location and have been included in each setting in this graphic.
  • The shaded locations are areas where the individual(s) with COVID-19 attended but transmission did not occur / does not appear to have occurred and there were no high-risk contacts identified by September 23. They are included in the graphic to highlight the impact of preventative measures taken in schools, business, and long-term care homes.
Sports cluster - Part 1

This timeline for this infographic is between October 2 and October 20, 2020. Prior to October 10, in accordance with Stage 3 regulations from the province, sports team practices were permitted to have up to 50 people who were in the same league.

On October 10, Ottawa transitioned to Modified Stage 2 regulations from the province, which permit up to 10 people at a team practice indoors, in line with indoor gathering limits.

OPH has been working closely with sport organization partners in the community. The changes made by province regarding sports teams helped address some of these concerns. We must all continue to be COVIDWise when participating in organized team sports by wearing a mask, isolating from others when we are sick, staying two metres apart from those outside our households and exercising proper hand hygiene.

Additional background:

  • The index case was asymptomatic when they attended the Team A practice
  • Masks were not consistently worn during team practices
  • People carpooled to team practices with members from outside their households without consistent mask use
  • Spectators/parents mingled outside team practices without consistent mask use or physical distancing
  • Coaches and players interacted with members from multiple teams
  • All exposure to COVID-19 shown in the graphic occurred in Ottawa
  • A presumptive case is an individual who is a close contact of someone who has COVID-19 and has COVID-19 like symptoms but did not get tested
Sports cluster - Part 2

This is a visual representation of a community transmission cluster involving one person (asymptomatic) with COVID-19 who attended an indoor hockey team practice. This transmission event resulted in:

  • 89 people confirmed to have COVID-19
  • 445 high risk contacts who needed to self-isolate
  • Four outbreaks in schools
  • One outbreak in a daycare
  • 10 sports teams/practices impacted

The text on the infographic highlights some factors that played a role in the widespread transmission of COVID-19 in this cluster. Our individual and collective actions matter. As a result of this cluster, Ottawa Public Health worked with stakeholders to reduce high-risk behaviours, encouraged play SMART and developed educational materials and resources to limit COVID-19 transmission in sports. 

Choose Safer Options – Be SMART

Transmission of COVID-19 is possible before, during and after events and activities. Precautions are required to reduce the risk of transmission while enabling participation to occur.

S – Self screen and Stay home when sick. 

Ensure that you are fit to participate.  Perform a daily self-screening and stay home if you are feeling even a little unwell. 

M – Mitigation Measures 

Implement as many public health measures as possible to ensure layers of protection from the possible spread and transmission of COVID-19. 

  • Masking 

  • Physical distancing 

  • Hand Hygiene & Respiratory Etiquette 

  • Cleaning & Disinfection 

A – Adapt  

Adapt the activity to achieve the current provincial guidance, and COVID Wise practices. Ensure that your plans are flexible to change should the current context require it. 

R – Reduce Contacts & Exposure 

When participating in activities, choose wisely and avoid the three C’s. 

Confined or Closed spaces – especially those with poor ventilation.  Outdoors is better than indoors. 

Crowds – the more people, the higher the risk, especially if the crowd is unmasked, talking, singing, shouting or breathing hard (exercising). 

Close Contact – staying further apart is safer than being close together. 

The more C’s the higher the risk.  The longer the length of time the greater exposure. 

T – Track your activities 

Have a system in place to track your activities outside the home. 

Ways to stay active

Our neighbourhood sidewalks, streets, multiuse paths and dog parks are all available to get outside and get moving. When doing these activities, some ways to stay safe: 

  • Step-aside or pass others quickly and courteously on sidewalks. Passing someone on the sidewalk is not considered a close contact or a significant risk for exposure to COVID-19.
  • Keep two metres (six feet) distance from others or wear a mask if this is not possible. 
  • When moving at a fast pace (such as when running or cycling), it is best to stay as far away from others as possible.
  • If you must be behind another runner or cyclist, stay well back and try to stagger yourselves so as to not be directly behind them.
  • Change your route or the time of day that you go out, so that you can follow these guidelines.

Learn more on the guidelines for the use of city parks.

Outdoor and team sports:

Refer to the Reopening Ontario Roadmap for guidelines and information on what is currently permitted. 

All sports need to be modified to avoid physical contact and COVID Wise protocols to promote safer participation when permitted within the framework.  

Ideas to stay active at home

If you can’t get outside or don’t have access to a private outdoor space, there are many ways to be active indoors. 

  • Be creative and use what you have at home to keep everyone moving.
  • Access online resources for both live and recorded activities to get you moving at home:


COVID-19 guidance for return to sport and recreation and fitness

These guidelines are intended to provide guidance to support facilities and organizers to re-open as safely as possible in the COVID-19 context. 

This guidance is subject to change and will be updated as needed. Learn more about the current information related to COVID-19.

Sector specific guidance is also available from the Government of Ontario.

To lower the risk of COVID-19 transmission from sports, OPH recommends the following safety precautions:  

  • Practise your sport outside rather than inside whenever possible. If practicing indoors, ensure you are in a large and well-ventilated space such as an arena, gymnasium or sports dome.
  • Consider participating in individual sports – such as running, swimming or skiing – over team sports to reduce crowding and close contacts.  
  • Try sports where there is more natural spacing, such as tennis, badminton or mountain biking.    
  • Choose non-contact sports (like ultimate frisbee or dance) over contact sports (like football or soccer), where participants are unable to physically distance from each other.   
  • If participating in multiple sports, try to limit yourself to one sports team/league and choose individual sports as a supplement. 
  • When not actively playing (such as when in changing rooms or during breaks), wear a mask, practise physical distancing, avoid any shared water bottles and snacks and practise regular hand hygiene.  

OPH encourages physical activity but strongly advises participants to consider their own personal circumstances and risk factors including risk for exposure to the COVID-19 virus when making decisions about going out and participating in sports and recreation programs.  

  • OPH recognizes that the risk of serious illness from COVID-19 increases progressively with age, particularly beyond 50 years of age. In addition to increasing age, people who have serious underlying medical conditions (such as: cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic lung disease, chronic liver disease, cancer, are immunocompromised) or who are severely obese are at a higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. They should take extra precautions and may want to consult with their healthcare provider when considering participating in fitness or sports programs.  

Safety plans
  • Describe measures/procedures that have been or will be implemented in the business, place, facility or establishment to reduce spread of COVID-19. 

  • Include measures for screening, physical distancing, masks, cleaning, disinfecting and personal protective equipment (PPE). 

  • Be in writing and made available to any person for review on request. 

  • Be posted in a visible place to come to the attention of those working or attending the location. 

Reporting an exposure of COVID-19

Employers must immediately notify Ottawa Public Health when they become aware of two or more people who test positive for COVID-19 within a 14-day period in their workplace. This is a requirement in a Letter of Instruction to all workplaces in Ottawa.   

Community organizations are asked to notify Ottawa Public Health when they become aware of two or more people who test positive for COVID-19 within a 14 – day period in their organization, team, or facility. 

Learn more about what to do if an employee has COVID-19 and preview the reporting tool

Learn more about what to do if a member has COVID-19 and preview the reporting tool

The following tools have been created to assist sports teams and community organizations: 

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Frequently asked questions

High-risk contact and fully vaccinated

Can I continue playing sports and other group activities if I am a high-risk contact and fully vaccinated?
High-risk contacts who have no symptoms and are fully vaccinated must do the following for 10 days after their last exposure to someone with COVID-19:
  • Wear a mask and maintain physical distance when outside of the home
  • Avoid places where there are many people who are vulnerable (e.g., visiting a long-term care home) or many people who are not vaccinated (e.g., volunteering at a school)
  • Report the exposure to their employer and/or Occupational Health department and follow any workplace policies in place for high-risk contacts
  • Isolate immediately and get tested if any symptom(s) of COVID-19 develop

Group activities such as sports and recreation activities are higher risk for COVID-19 transmission due to close contact, heavy breathing during activity, and often taking place in indoor spaces.  It is important to note that although measures can be taken to ensure participation is as safe as possible, there will still be a risk for COVID-19 transmission to others while participating. While being fully vaccinated provides strong personal protection against COVID-19 infection, it is still possible to transmit the virus to others.

OPH recommends that fully vaccinated high-risk contacts only consider participating in sports and other group activities when:

  • A strict COVID-19 vaccine policy is in place that covers all eligible players/participants, officials, coaches and volunteers in the league/club/organization
  • All players/participants are 12 years of age and older, thereby meeting age-based COVID-19 vaccine eligibility requirements

Before participating in group activities, all individuals need to consider their personal risk factors for COVID-19 infection and severe illness, as well as that of others that they interact with (e.g., family members).

Staying informed

How do I stay informed of all the changes to guidance and regulations in sports & recreation?

The Province of Ontario website provides up to date information on the current stage and regulations for the Province. 

Ottawa Public Health Sports, Recreation and Being Active During Covid-19 web page provides information and resources to help you stay COVIDWise during your activities. 

Subscribe to Sports, Recreation and Being Active During COVID-19 Newsletter


What is the difference between active and passive screening?
“Active screening” means that the employer or operator must collect and review information to actively determine whether a person may enter a workplace/business. “Passive screening” occurs when employees/participants assess their own risk factors and decide for themselves whether they may enter the workplace or not. Active screening is usually documented by the organizer and passive screening is not.
Can we use an app or online screening process?

Yes, active screening can be done in person or remotely by telephone, internet, email, or through an app prior to entry.

Employers/Operators must use all the Screening Tool’s questions in their active screening process. If an individual does not pass the screening (i.e., if the individual answers “YES” to any of the questions), they must advise the individual that they cannot enter the workplace or activity (including outdoors/partially outdoor workplaces), must go home, self-isolate and contact their health provider or Telehealth Ontario for further instructions.

For further information visit: Ontario Covid-19 Screening Tools

Wearing masks

Are employees still required to wear masks? 
Yes, masks are required for employees.

Physical distancing and masks or face coverings guidelines can be found in  Ontario Regulation 520/21: Rules for areas in Stage 3 under the Reopening Ontario Framework and Act.   Additionally the Ministry of Labour Training and Skills Development provides further occupational health and safety compliance information for using masks in the workplace which businesses and organizations should be familiar with to protect their employees.  

What are the requirements for masks for participants and athletes in sports, recreation, and fitness settings?

Masks are required under the following situations, unless individual is entitled to any of the exceptions within the Ontario Regulation 520/21: Rules for areas in Stage 3: 

  • Indoor spectators 

  • Outdoor spectators 

  • Persons in an indoor area of facilities when not actively participating in a sport or fitness activity. 

Ottawa Public Health recommends masks are worn in all situations where physical distancing of two metres (six feet) is difficult to maintain – indoors and outdoors.  Some outdoor spaces may include, but not limited to, benches, dugouts, and sidelines when physical distancing is not possible. 

Testing/ Sick protocol

If one participant is sick and leaves to get tested for COVID-19, are there additional steps I should be taking around cleaning, and contacting athletes?

Yes. All individuals including athletes, coaching staff and officials, should regularly self-monitor for symptoms of Covid-19 and complete a Covid-19 self-assessment before attending each game/sport. 

Other staff and participants awaiting the results of those who have been tested may not need to be excluded if they have not been in close contact with the individual in question.

Indoor spaces





Contact Information

Provincial Vaccine Information Line

  • 7 days a week, from 8 am to 8 pm
  • Call if you have questions about Ontario's COVID-19 vaccination program.
  • Service is available in multiple languages.
  • Telephone: 1-888-999-6488
  • TTY: 1-866-797-0007

Ottawa Public Health COVID-19 Telephone Line

  • Monday to Friday, from 8 am to 4:30 pm
  • Translation is available in multiple languages
  • Telephone: 613-580-6744 follow the prompts to the COVID-19 telephone line
  • TTY: 613-580-9656

Emergency Services

  • If you are in distress (e.g., significant trouble breathing, chest pain, fainting or have a significant worsening of any chronic disease symptoms), do not go to the Assessment Centre or a COVID-19 Care clinic. Go to the nearest Emergency Department or call 9-1-1.

See someone not respecting COVID-19 rules?

How to access help during COVID-19

  • 211 Ontario can help you find financial and social support during COVID-19
  • Telephone: 2-1-1

Related Information

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