CALGARY — Officials with the Calgary Stampede say reduced daily attendance and enhanced COVID-19 protocols to keep visitors safe will be in place if the event goes ahead.
They say plans are for capacity to be cut in half, and attendees could be required to show proof of vaccination or undergo rapid testing to enter some venues, including the Nashville North live music tent.
Staff and volunteers would be required to wear masks and have rapid COVID-19 testing.
The world-renowned rodeo and fair is expected to return this year on July 9 and run for 10 days after being shut down due to COVID-19 in 2020.
"It's very true over the years we've been knocked down in the past -- two world wars, economic woes, the Great Depression and of course that devastating flood," Steve McDonough, president and board chairman of the Calgary Stampede, said Monday.
"But each time we have faced adversity, we've gotten back up, dusted ourselves off and put on the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth."
Premier Jason Kenney announced last month that almost all COVID-19 restrictions in the province could be gone by early July, provided 70 per cent of the population gets its first dose of vaccine, clearing the way to hold the Stampede.
A doctors group in Edmonton, however, has urged the premier to cancel major summer events, including the Stampede, or postpone them until fall due to concerns over an increase in COVID-19 variants.
"There's been a lot of debate lately about how Alberta should open up again and when," McDonough said.
"There has been criticisms of the Stampede for being one of the first organizations to open the gates. Other parts of the world have shown us that we can begin the opening of our doors as long as it's done responsibly.
"We recognize that we are leading the way in Canada with our event and we do so following best practices, advice and safety protocols."
Dr. Jia Hu, a public health physician who is working as an adviser to the Calgary Stampede, said there are three main things that will keep the event safe.
"First of all, it's primarily an outdoor event and we know outdoor transmission is exceedingly rare," he said. "Secondly, we are significantly reducing capacity.
"Lastly, we are taking a risk-based approach. We understand certain things are riskier than others and that's why we are implementing things like masking, like rapid testing, and considering proof of vaccination."
Interim CEO Dana Peers said the Stampede is taking a careful approach in order to keep visitors safe.
"We understand that visitors may want to shape their experience. We encourage you to plan in advance, pre-purchase your admission and find those experiences that you enjoy and fit your comfort level," he said.
Peers said masking protocols and a rapid testing program would be in place for employees and volunteers, and there would be reduced lineups due to digital queueing systems.
He said there would also be sanitation stations and enhanced cleaning protocols throughout the park, limitations on entry numbers and how many people can attend certain venues.
Peers said there could also be other changes coming with three weeks to go before the event.
“Everything has been very much in flux and we continue to evolve," he said. "We will continue to evolve until the last day."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 14, 2021.
The Canadian Press