The government of Alberta recently announced that the Calgary Stampede will move forward this year. The “modified plans” that have been unveiled are dependent on the restrictions set in place by Alberta’s provincial government. With Alberta set to enter Stage 3 this coming July 1, it is unclear how much of a normal Stampede this year will be. In this final stage, the United Conservative Party (UCP) has promised to lift all restrictions and only keep isolation requirements for confirmed cases of COVID-19.
In comparison to other provinces, the UCP’s approach to reopening has been deemed “irresponsible and aggressive” by Dr. James Talbot, co-chair of the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association’s COVID-19 committee. Talbot expressed concerns over the fact that Stage 3 has only required 70 per cent of the province to have one dose rather than two and worries about the effect that variants may have.
The Calgary Stampede will begin in less than two weeks after the beginning of the last stage of the summer reopening plan and it will be Canada’s first major event since the COVID-19 pandemic. But, is Calgary ready for that? According to Calgary’s Mayor, Naheed Nenshi, the city has the chance to be “a national leader in what life could be like post-pandemic.” The reality of this statement is that Alberta, much like the rest of the country, is not yet ready to consider what “post-pandemic” life is, seeing as we are still trying to control the virus.
With virtually all restrictions being lifted by the government, the call to safety is primarily on the Calgary municipality and the Stampede itself. It is imperative to understand what consequences may arise as a result of this event moving forward without proper restrictions. The Calgary Stampede has announced certain safety enhancements including sanitization stations, controlled traffic, pre-purchased admission, 25 per cent more space on the grounds and a reduction of the overall capacity. They also noted that while they encourage guests to wear masks, they will follow Alberta Health Services (AHS) guidelines at that time — but they will make masks mandatory for staff and volunteers.
As of June 27, Calgary’s face coverings bylaw was extended to July 5, 2021. The most concerning factor of the Stampede reopening is less of the Exhibition Center itself and more about the crowds and parties it will cause in homes, bars and restaurants that are virtually no longer under any restrictions, whatsoever. In Calgary alone, there were multiple outbreaks in April when Calgary was still under restrictions in multiple restaurants and bars.
Additionally, The University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine created a COVID tracker that graphs all of the outbreaks from hotels, private residences, recreation and restaurants throughout the pandemic. While these numbers have now been reduced, it’s important to note that all these outbreaks arose under restrictions and even with those restrictions, all of these outbreaks preceded increased levels of restriction or lockdowns.
Furthermore, the one-dose goal of the Alberta UCP is frightening and the effects of the variants must be considered. Using one-dose of the vaccine as a replacement to these restrictions may not have the same or higher level of safety than the measures that were in place. It is also worth noting that the Open for Summer plan was drafted prior to the arrival of the Delta variant that has proven to be more contagious. While Kenney is convinced that the vaccine rates will fight against this variant it is clear that medical professionals are worried about the outcomes.
“We still have 1.8 million Albertans who have had no shots. Those Albertans who have had only one shot or no shot could potentially spread it amongst themselves […] We are in a situation where the Delta variant is certainly concerning,” said Noel Gibney, co-chair of the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association Strategic Pandemic Committee.
While Dr. Gabriel Fabreau, a general internist and clinic volunteer at the Peter Lougheed Hospital was quoted saying: “Delta variant is here, the science is emerging but it looks like it is more transmissible and is able to escape every single vaccine to a greater degree than the other variants.”
With the Calgary Stampede underway, it is vital to implement safety measures to combat the dangers that the variants pose. In the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) category, the Calgary Stampede website states that they have been “encouraged by the successful and safe operation of local attractions” citing the Calgary Zoo, Heritage Park and Calaway Park. However, the Stampede is not at all comparable to these attractions due to its substantial crowd influx and significant influence on tourism. The Stampede, on average, has over 1 million attendees — with the last Stampede in 2019 having over 1,275,465 total attendance in 10 days.
While the Calgary Stampede continues to say they are proceeding safely, the safety measures are, nonetheless, contingent on the government’s demand. On June 23, the mask bylaw in Calgary was extended to July 5 and is to be revisited on that day. Nenshi was met with disapproval from Kenney as the UCP government wants masks gone on July 1. Nenshi was quoted saying, “I’m not sure how much credibility the Government of Alberta has on these measures. We’ve seen them put in restrictions too late and lift them too early continuously for the last 15 months, causing further waves.”
Though Nenshi does have hope in this year’s Calgary Stampede to be a leading example of life post-COVID, he does not seem to have the same amount of confidence in the Alberta government. Nenshi states that the UCP’s failure to keep implemented restrictions when needed has only caused further waves, yet he still supports the Stampede continuing under the UCP’s reopening plan for Alberta.
With contradicting opinions and indirect statements, the municipal and provincial governments have left Albertans to question what their priority is. Are we focusing on Calgary being “the leading example of life post-COVID,” or are we focusing on the safety of our citizens? Alberta’s Open for Summer plan could drastically change the progress that’s been made in overcoming COVID-19.
—Julieanne Acosta, Volunteer
Stampede is an Albertan tradition and an internationally acclaimed spectacle, bringing in over one million people yearly to the Calgary area. Stampede has been around for almost a century and for the first time, it was cancelled in 2020 due to the ongoing, but currently waning, coronavirus. There is a large difference between this year and 2020, especially on the vaccination front. At the time this article was written, the Alberta government has stated that 71.7 per cent of eligible Albertans have received their first dose and 38.6 per cent have received their second. Our case counts are some of the lowest they have ever been after reopening many services. Albertans need some normalcy again and Stampede is the answer for Albertans and Canadians who want normalcy back, without sacrificing the safety we have all maintained this year.
Why have Stampede? Many are and will be asking these questions in the coming days, given the fear of the coronavirus and the new delta variant which has entered Canada, which shows to be more viral than other variants detected before. While early data shows our vaccines to be efficient against this strain, it is still important to be cautious with holding events. This is why a large outdoor event such as Stampede is good for this summer, to allow others to have a good time while still staying safe, given that spread of the virus is less outdoors than indoors. Currently, federal travel regulations require both Canadians and non-Canadians to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival into Canada and the upcoming easing of restrictions will only change this condition for fully vaccinated Canadian citizens. This means that anyone heading to Stampede, who is from or has returned from out of the country, will most likely not be infected with the virus. COVID-19 risks have also been addressed by the Calgary Stampede on their FAQ page.
Stampede tickets are purchasable online for the first time ever and are limiting capacity. They are taking away 25 percent of midway activities and eliminating indoor events, which are also determining factors in keeping visitors safe. Nashville North, the country music festival that takes place over Stampede, will utilize a tent that has no walling, an online queue line and possible rapid testing and vaccination proof for entry. All volunteers at the Stampede will be subject to testing procedures and sanitization efforts will be maintained. All of these measures, as of the date this article was written, are in place regardless of Alberta’s reopening plan for July 1, where all restrictions will be lifted.
What’s changed? I, for one, love Stampede and everything about it — the mini donuts, the various fried foods, the midway and the fun yet casual atmosphere. Luckily for all of you cowboys and cowgirls, the Stampede is keeping those traditions alive. While the aforementioned restrictions will remain, you can expect all of your fan favourites — minus any indoor events. The evening show and fireworks are also still happening, albeit having limited seating to appease distancing of six feet between groups. Overall, this is the Stampede we all know and love, just with minor changes such as the elimination of indoor events and chuckwagon races. The rodeo is still going on and will have some of the best cowboys from around the country. Nashville North’s lineup is one to die for this year with names such as the Hunter brothers, Dean Brody and Brett Kissel.
Some people are saying that we should not run Stampede this year for many reasons, such as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s handling of the pandemic, which has been criticized by many as being rushed and not in tune with many experts in the field of epidemiology. I am in no way a Jason Kenney fan — he has allowed tuition to be raised through funding freeze to universities across Alberta and his recent breach of COVID regulations in the sky palace restaurant, where he dined with others who aren’t in his cohort. Kenney has also been insensitive in general, recently getting aggravated about cancel culture due to a renaming of a school the day after 215 bodies were found by a Residential School in Kamloops.
Many believe this is a political stunt by him to increase his decreasing popularity. It most definitely is a political stunt, but the Calgary Stampede team has handled their restrictions and plans well, regardless of political strife. I don’t see this event as a mistake, but instead as an opportunity to show the efficacy of our current vaccine and to show how outdoor events can run safely while still improving the mental health of Albertans. As a born and raised Albertan, I’m ready to throw on my cowboy hat, buckle on my boots and go enjoy a tradition, as long as I’m keeping myself and others safe.
—Nathaniel Tschupruk, Volunteer