In an announcement Monday morning, the team said fans attending Elks games at Commonwealth Stadium will need to be fully vaccinated (14 days after second dose) or show proof of a negative COVID-19 test, starting at the club’s home game on Friday, Oct. 15.
Elks president and CEO Chris Presson said the Oct. 15 date was chosen in order to give the organization, staff and game-day employees time, as well as ensure the process is efficient when they roll it out.
“We are operating a very large vessel here and trying to turn this large vessel around in the Suez Canal takes some time,” he said.
“We have 1,600 game-day employees and we wanted to make sure that we gave them time to react and to act. We also have a large fan base that needs to act and react to that. And this gives everyone a chance to get done what they need to get done to become organized and to frankly help us to get organized as well.”
Fans must show either electronic or paper proof of vaccination to enter the stadium. If a fan cannot prove they are fully vaccinated, they will be required to show a negative test that was collected within 48 hours of the game’s scheduled start time.
Fans under 12 will be exempt from these requirements, according to the team. Currently, those under the age of 12 are not eligible for vaccination.
The team also said all Elks business operations and front office employees will be required to be fully vaccinated.
“The players are unionized. Coaches and others are not, so they would fall into the category of needing to be vaccinated,” Presson explained. “We have a collective bargaining agreement with our players so everything we do has to go through the CFLPA and that’s why, from a union perspective, that’s not mandated at this point — because we can’t.”
Elks game-days staff, as well as stadium and event staff, will be required to follow the same game-day requirements as fans.
“As we continue to navigate the ongoing challenges presented by COVID-19, the Elks believe this policy is essential to delivering a safe environment for our fans and staff, as we continue to play an important role in our bringing our community together,” the Edmonton Elks said in a news release Monday.
The decision comes as the team deals with a COVID-19 outbreak.
In a news release Sunday, the Elks said the number of confirmed positive cases among the team has dropped to 13 after a player was deemed to be a false positive.
All players and coaches will remain at home in isolation through Tuesday, and will continue to receive daily tests.
The Elks (1-2) plan to return to their facilities at Commonwealth Stadium on Wednesday ahead of their next game against the Stampeders in Calgary on Sept. 6.
Speaking with Daryl McIntyre and Morley Scott on 630 CHED Monday morning, Presson said there were no new cases confirmed from Sunday’s tests. Presson said the COVID-19 situation has been “monumentally better” over the last few days after some sleepless nights last week.
“You don’t sleep much at night and you don’t look forward to the mornings when you’re getting texts in the morning that you have positive cases,” Presson said.
“So it actually puts you in a mind space where you just really doubt everything including the first ding you hear of your phone every morning.”
He said the players who have contracted the disease seem to be doing well.
“We did have a bit of a complication with one player who had another underlying issue that, coupled with COVID, presented some challenges. He had to require some additional medical attention but it’s my understanding he’s doing just fine.”
Presson said he received information over the weekend and he believes the team has learned where the outbreak started.
“We had somebody break protocol unintentionally and was trying to take care of his body, had a massage therapist come out to try and take care of his body, apparently contracted it from her,” Presson said.
“And then beyond that, this is where it’s challenging, if you’re married or you have a girlfriend and she’s doing the shopping for the family and she has to go do what she has to do because you’re in isolation. And then before that, you’re in Tier 1, your wife’s not — they have to do everything for the family to make the family go — and we had a couple wives pick it up from outside of the house and bring it in to their husbands who then infected our team.
“That’s where it came from and that’s how quickly it spreads.”
The Saskatchewan Roughriders also announced Monday that fans will be required to be fully vaccinated or provide a negative test to attend games, starting Sept. 17.
Earlier this month, Calgary Sports and Entertainment announced a new policy that will require all eligible fans, event staff and employees to be fully vaccinated for attendance at live events at McMahon Stadium where the Stampeders play.
The policy — which comes into effect on Sept. 15 — also includes staff, fans and employees attending events at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
The Oilers Entertainment Group also announced a new policy earlier this month that will require fans aged 12 and older to provide proof of either being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 at least 14 days before a game or a negative COVID-19 taken within 48 hours of the game to be allowed into Rogers Place.
The OEG COVID-19 requirements start Sept. 28 and will be in place “for the foreseeable future.”
Before Monday’s announcements, the Roughriders and Elks were the only CFL teams without policies requiring fans to produce proof of vaccination or a negative test.
Presson said the team is working in collaboration with the city on the new vaccine/negative test plan. He said the organization spoke with the mayor, city manager and deputy city manager about the plan and they gave the Elks their full support.
“We’ve been following public health guidelines since the outset and there’s still no guidelines in place that have told us that we need to make these changes, right?” Presson said.
“We’ve done this on our own in collaboration with the city to say we recognize where we are. Certainly the outbreak with our team was a big push to make us stand up and say we need to create a safer environment for our fans, for our vendors, for our employees at large and that’s why we’ve done this.”
— With files from The Canadian Press.