CALGARY -- The Calgary Stampede unveiled more of its safety plans ahead of this year's event including capacity limits at all venues, additional sanitization stations on the grounds and a masking protocol for both front-line staff and volunteers.

Steve McDonough, president and chairman of the Stampede board, says he acknowledges the concerns and questions ahead of the 2021 edition of the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth but worries many of the facts and science have been lost in the discussions.

"There has been a lot of debate lately about how Alberta should open and when," said McDonough. "There has been criticism of the Stampede of being one of the first organizations to open the gates. Other parts of the world have shown us that we can begin our opening of our doors as long as it's done responsibly.

"We recognize we are leading the way in Canada."

Interim CEO Dana Peers says the Stampede plans to exceed public health measures on the grounds including heightened masking and testing protocols for front-line workers and volunteers.

As for masking for attendees, Peers says they will follow guidelines laid out by the city but do encourage visitors to wear face coverings.

He says they are considering requiring proof of vaccinations or a negative COVID-19 test for certain venues like Nashville North but that hasn’t yet been finalized. Potential plans for rapid testing or an insight vaccination clinic for attendees on the grounds, as originally proposed by the premier, have not yet come to fruition.

"At the Stampede we fully encourage people to make their own decisions which is why we built in options for the visitor experience this year," said Peers, "but we also believe those decisions should be made on fact not on hearsay or partial information or fear."

The Stampede says there will be robust contact tracing on the grounds in the event of an outbreak which Dr. Jia Hu, the public health physician and advisor for the Calgary Stampede, says is made easier due to electronic tickets.

"It is critically important actually that we identify cases as quickly as possible. I don’t doubt that a case will walk into the Stampede in the same way that cases are in the community today, but I do think that the combination of our preventive measures as well as the responsible measures — which is early identification of cases, rapid tracing and rapid notification — is going to nip anything in the bud quite quickly."

Digital queueing systems, entry number limits and venue capacity are expected to help reduce lineups.

Peers says there will be no foreign visitors this year that, on average, account for between 10 and 15 per cent of Stampede attendance. The Stampede anticipates this year's attendance will be roughly 50 per cent of previous years.

The Stampede stresses that no current plans are concrete and may be altered depending on the state of Alberta's COVID-19 situation in the weeks leading up to Stampede in July.

This year's event is scheduled to run July 9 -18 and follows the cancellation of the 2020 edition in response to the pandemic. 

"It is no secret this is a year of high anxiety laid onto a city already struggling from economic hardship and I believe the people of Calgary are looking for leadership and comfort, for something they know and they trust," said McDonough. "Throughout our history, the July Stampede celebration has served to fill that void, to get the ball rolling, to help us reconnect with our friends and neighbours, to be part of the community to laugh and to make new memories."