Hinshaw letter outlines return to audiences at events in Alberta starting in late May
CALGARY -- Alberta could see outdoor events with up to 100 people in attendance by late May, up to 500 by late June and capacity restrictions removed by late July, according to a letter from Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.
The letter dated April 9 and addressed to "stakeholders" is a "proposed outline of the potential timing for the return to audiences."
Acknowledging the economic challenges faced by live event operators during the COVID-19 pandemic, the letter says up to 15 per cent of capacity could be allowed at outdoor music, theatre and other performance events in late May, up to a maximum audience size of 100. That could be expanded to up to 50 per cent of capacity, up to a maximum of 500 people, in late June. Indoor audiences could also be allowed in June, up to 15 per cent of capacity up to a maximum of 100 people.
Capacity restrictions could be removed by late July, it reads.
"We are helping performance groups get a sense of what the future could possibly hold, but no final decisions have been made," said Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan in a statement.
"This includes any future decisions around specific timing and capacity limits at in-person events. Any future changes to the health measures in place will be based on the spread of COVID-19 in the province and our ability to bend down the curve.
"The faster that we can reduce spread and administer vaccines, the more quickly we can reduce restrictions in the months ahead."
The live events industry has been hard hit by COVID-19 restrictions over the last 13 months.
Several large events have already announced cancellations for 2021, including Country Thunder — scheduled for Aug. 20-21 at Prairie Winds Park in northeast Calgary — and the Canmore Folk Music Fesitval and the Edmonton Folk Music Festival.
Premier Jason Kenney has said he is hopeful the Calgary Stampede will go ahead in some form this year, depending on vaccine rollout, and officials with the Calgary Folk Music Festival are also holding out hope.
"Calgary Folk Music Festival is engaging in-depth, ongoing conversations with the city and the province around the ever-changing COVID-19 situation," said artistic director Kerry Clark in a statement.
"We remain cautiously optimistic and adaptable so are in the process of planning ways to safely bring live music back, in a very modified way, to Prince’s Island Park this summer. We'll share updates as we have them."
The Edmonton Football Team also expressed optimism.
"Any news of the lifting of restrictions for the summer is good news for all," said team president and CEO Chris Presson in a statement.
Meanwhile, in Crossfield, Alta., organizers of an annual rodeo have high hopes that their summer event will go ahead as planned.
"We've never ever had to cancel the rodeo since 1977," said Joanne Cornellsen, president of the Crossfield Rodeo Society. "It's the biggest event of the year in Crossfield so everyone was pretty sad when we had to cancel it."
The rodeo is part of the annual Pete Knight Days, a weekend that includes two pancake breakfasts, two community dances and a parade through town.
Normally, the event happens in June but this year, organizers pushed it to August, hoping the delayed start meant COVID-19 restrictions will have passed.
Now, they're contemplating skipping the tradition for a second time.
"We basically have to make a decision within two-and-a-half months of the event whether we are going to go ahead or not," said Cornellsen. "There is a lot involved. On average, we probably have 40 to 50 volunteers just to be able to run the event and that's not including our competitors, which adds another 300."
Alberta began Phase 2C of its immunization program on Monday, which is for health-care workers providing in-person, direct patient care.
Phase 2B of the vaccine rollout began last week, which includes Albertans between the ages of 16 and 64 who have a medical history that includes cancer treatment, transplant surgery, dementia, disability, or pregnancy among other conditions.
Kenney has said the hope is to give a first dose to all adults who want a vaccine by the end of June.
On Thursday, Hinshaw announced 1,646 new COVID-19 cases, the highest single-day count since mid-December. The province has 16,223 cases and 416 people with COVID-19 in hospital, including 86 in ICU.
As of the end of Tuesday, Alberta had administered more than one million doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
(With files from Chris Epp)