After months of isolation stuck within Toronto's concrete, Muskoka’s blue lakes, endless sunsets, golf courses, and tech-enabled waterfront properties offer a tempting escape for Toronto-based buyers and renters looking for a change in scenery.

As a result, COVID hasn't exactly cooled off the Muskoka real estate market.

As cottages (many of which are more accurately described as summer estates) along the shores of Muskoka lakes begin to fill with city folk for either the summer or the weekend, the fact that we’re still in the middle of a global pandemic hasn’t gone ignored. After all, although Muskoka may seem like its own little COVID-19-free bubble of paradise, that bubble could easily burst if cottage country visitors aren’t extremely cognizant of their actions.

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This means practicing the same degree of social distancing in cottage country as you would in the city, limiting trips to the local grocery store (preferably bringing your groceries up from the city), and staying home in Toronto if you're experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19. Every reputable vacation rentals company is doing its part to facilitate safety, implementing measures including heightened cleaning and sanitization programs, and blocking off longer periods of time between groups of renters.

"With provincial regulation now permitting cottage rentals as of June 5, and with most regions of Ontario (including Simcoe Muskoka) moving into Stage 2 of reopening, many people will be coming to our area to visit their cottage or seasonal residence. Many may be coming from areas of higher COVID-19 transmission (e.g. the GTA) than what we are currently experiencing in Simcoe Muskoka," states the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit.

"COVID-19 continues to be a threat, therefore we must all continue to be vigilant and protect ourselves and others from spreading COVID-19."

You can find a full list of recommendations from Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit here.

Muskoka has quickly caught up with the times to keep its residents and visitors safe; recently making headlines with drive-through COVID-19 testing centres in both Bracebridge and Huntsville being set up this week. Paramedics are offering appointment-free tests to Muskoka residents who are asymptomatic and visiting a long-term care or retirement home in the region. Of course, this complements the region’s existing testing centres.

Currently, there are 564 confirmed cases in the Muskoka Simcoe region. It should be noted, however, that this area is incredibly vast; the cottage-filled Muskoka Lakes, Gravenhurst, and Bracebridge have much fewer cases compared to places like Innisfil, New Tecumseth, and Barrie.

With Muskoka doing its part to actively protect its residents and guests, its not entirely surprising that tensions remain high between worried locals and what they perceive as potentially COVID-bearing visitors. In fact, cars with American license plates were reportedly even keyed in the region last week, according to Muskoka Lakes Mayor Phil Harding.

With a lowering number of cases reported in Ontario for weeks now, the hope is that everyone – locals, owners, renters, and visitors – can govern themselves accordingly to ensure that Muskoka is as safe as it is beautiful this summer. As Premier Doug Ford has perpetually reminded us, Ontario can quickly take a step back if cases start to surge again, or more people begin to behave like “yahoos” (his words).

If we're not careful, restrictions could easily go back in place – just ask residents of Sauble Beach. Today, South Bruce Peninsula announced the temporary closure of all of its freshly reopened beaches – including the incredibly popular Sauble Beach – after the town’s mayor Janice Jackson pointed fingers at visitors, claiming that, "day-trippers flagrantly defied our restrictions."

A step backward could mean things like the retightening of restrictions on short-term rentals, a closure of Muskoka’s tourist spots, scaled-back marina service, and more than a handful of lonely cottages.

Stay safe this summer, and help keep Muskoka open to Torontonians desperately hoping to escape the city.