From dance floors to sanitizer, Manitoba event community seeks clarity on how to host in a pandemic

By | June 15, 2020

Posing for a quick group photo at a wedding this summer is probably OK, but hitting the dance floor at a bar likely won’t be.

That’s some of the guidance Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer gave to the province’s event planning community on Monday, as businesses in the hard-hit sector sought clarity on how they can begin to host gatherings during a pandemic.

Dr. Brent Roussin addressed roughly 700 people involved in Manitoba’s event industry on Monday during a virtual Q&A focused on the future of gatherings in the province, from weddings to corporate conferences.

The questions, submitted by business and read by Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce president Loren Remillard and Manitoba Chambers of Commerce president Chuck Davidson, ran the gamut from hyper-specific — such as how often a campground owner should sanitize campsite outlets — to the broad, such as what to expect for capacity limits heading into the fall.

“Businesses have done an amazing job at getting things back and running while still protecting Manitobans. We’re going to still rely on businesses to do that,” Roussin said during the event, which was hosted on Zoom.

He told business owners he hopes to be able to provide more clear guidance for various sectors going forward, as the province considers its next steps to reopen the economy. Much of that will depend on what they hear from business experts, he said.

His big message to business owners trying to wrestle with requirements was to assess risk based on the knowledge that the virus isn’t going anywhere, but they can minimize spread by preventing close, prolonged contact at their gatherings.

“We really started shifting our messaging, that we have to live with the virus, that people need to understand the risks involved with it,” Roussin said. 

Capacity limit could rise to 250 by fall

The province’s event sector has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, Remillard said Monday.

The Winnipeg Chamber partnered with the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce to organize the webinar, and Remillard said it was the largest one either organization had ever hosted.

“[That] really speaks to the sheer need within that sector to get some answers,” he said.

The biggest ask from business owners going into the webinar was about what to expect in the future, he said.

Events, especially large ones, require substantial lead time that make uncertainty a challenge for businesses, he said.

On Monday, Roussin told attendees it’s hard to say for sure what the future will look like. The province still hasn’t completed consultation on the next stage of reopening, which has a proposed start date of June 21.

Asked if an organization might be able to plan a corporate luncheon of a few hundred people in September, for example, Roussin said it’s not off the table, although it might not be a good idea.

“It’s possible,” Roussin said. “When we first started limiting group sizes, often 250 was the number, so I could certainly see things getting back up to that area. But, again, I would say that we’re not going to be in a normal place, and so things that don’t necessarily have to be done, [or] that can be done in another manner … should still be planning to that.”

Other answers were more specific: Event tents, for example, count as indoor spaces if their wall flaps are down, but outdoor spaces if the wall flaps are pulled up, Roussin said. Dance floors at bars aren’t likely to be allowed, but might be at weddings where it’s easy to trace contacts.

And it might not be a bad idea for event organizers to keep a list with contact information for who shows up, in case someone tests positive and attendees need to be contacted.

Remillard said the webinar was a valuable opportunity for businesses to hear from public health, but also for the province to get a sense of what’s on the minds of business owners.

Going forward, he hopes to hear more specifics from the province about things like event capacity, and to see investment from government to support businesses before they close their doors for good.

“There is a lot of frustration in the business community right now, as companies are trying to make sense of what the reopening plans are [while] still facing massive costs associated with reopening their businesses,” Remillard said.

“There’s a lot of hand-wringing out there right now as to am I going to still be in business to three months from now and really calling upon all levels of government to take a look at their current programing and saying, ‘You need to adapt.'”

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