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Great outdoors could be panacea for pandemic: OSMH president

Carmine Stumpo wants city, local groups to provide opportunities during winter; 'How can we make the outdoors this winter, more than any winter, be more attractive?'

The president of Orillia’s hospital is hoping local organizations come together to combat the physical and mental health challenges posed by a pandemic during the winter.

Carmine Stumpo, president and CEO of Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital, recently retweeted an OrilliaMatters article about the city’s See You on the Patio program returning next summer and wrote, “Why wait till next summer … ? Let’s build on this amazing success and get people out and about (in) Orillia and surrounding area this winter. After all, we are Canadian....”

He said his comment wasn’t simply about See You on the Patio. Rather, he wanted to start a conversation about how to encourage people to get outside and stay active during the coming winter.

“How can we make the outdoors this winter, more than any winter, be more attractive?” he said.

Dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic in the winter for the first time will be difficult for many, and they might not expect it to affect them the way it will.

“We’re going to have a myriad of new health concerns if people don’t have human connections and stay active,” Stumpo said. “I’m a firm believer that physical health and mental health go hand in hand.”

The holidays are typically a time of togetherness, but that won’t be possible for everyone. Also, there’s less daylight now and that can affect mental health.

It’s also unclear whether gyms and other fitness facilities will be open during the winter, and not everyone has fitness equipment in their homes, but there are many ways to stay active, Stumpo said.

“We’ve got some of the most beautiful hiking trails here. We go out every weekend and they’re almost always empty,” he said. “A lot of the restrictions tell you what you can’t do. We want people to think about things they can do.”

There’s an opportunity for the city and other groups in the area to come up with new ideas to encourage activity and wellness, he said, suggesting, as examples, closing Mississaga Street to vehicles on Friday nights and creating skating trails or cross-country skiing paths in the area.

“It requires a different kind of effort in the winter, but it’s not impossible,” he said.

Stumpo wants people to be prepared for the winter and be realistic about the pandemic.

“We have hope in a vaccine, but research is still underway. We’re going into winter with a pandemic, and when you look at the numbers, that’s going to continue,” he said. “If we’re not given safe options, it’s do nothing or make a bad decision.”

He said there are “a lot of different groups that need to be thinking about this” and he would be open to having a conversation with them to come up with ideas.

It’s a conversation the Orillia District Chamber of Commerce is willing to have, said its managing director, Allan Lafontaine.

He said there are opportunities for farms and businesses in the area to provide outdoor recreational opportunities in the winter.

“We want to keep the community safe and keep our economy open,” he said.

He likes the idea of having something similar to the See You on the Patio events continue through winter.

“As long as you have some sort of fire or heat system, there’s no reason why you can’t,” he said. “Hats off to Orillia for supporting their businesses at this time. We can’t take our foot off the pedal on that.”

Those in the tourism and hospitality industries should also look at ways to attract business in the colder season, Lafontaine added, suggesting hotels look at package deals in partnership with ski hills and other outdoor operations.

“Tourism operators, hotels and restaurants should all get together and have that conversation,” he said.

Coun. Ted Emond, who chairs the city’s economic recovery task force, said that group is exploring ways to support local businesses and get people out during the winter.

He knows of some places that have attracted people during the winter by having large bonfires and vendors or kiosks offering hot drinks. He’s not sure it would fly with the local fire department, but it’s not out of the question.

Nor is a continuation of See You on the Patio, or something like it.

“It’s a possibility. The big challenge is, with See You on the Patio, there was a specific focus, initially, on helping our restaurants stay alive,” Emond said, noting the patios were popular in the summer. “In the winter, I’m not sure we can do that.”

The task force hasn’t settled on any specific plans for the winter, but Emond is all ears.

“If any good ideas come forward, they’ll be looked at seriously,” he said, adding the city does have some funding that could be used to create new opportunities.

Nathan Taylor

About the Author: Nathan Taylor

Nathan Taylor is an experienced multimedia journalist and editor who covers Orillia and other parts of Simcoe County.
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