With the COVID-19 Omicron variant spreading rapidly, Alberta’s top doctor says it would make sense to require physical distancing in large venues, but it’s not required.
“Currently, if a facility is under the restriction exemption program (REP), they are recommended to space people with at least two metres between households. However, that isn’t required,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health.
“At this point in time, though, with Omicron and the high infectivity, that would be a best practice in terms of a recommendation,” she added.
Under the latest provincial restrictions, capacity at venues that seat over 1,000 people is reduced in half. Vaccination status, or proof of a negative test and masks are also required.
But people can still sit shoulder to shoulder.
“Crowding in common areas is a big part of the risk in a larger venue, and reducing the total number of people is intended to reduce that potential for crowding,” said Jason Maloney, assistant communications director with Alberta Health.
The province said under the REP order, the purpose of capacity limits is to facilitate physical distancing.
“Even if a setting is not subject to capacity limits, it is recommended that physical distancing between attendees is promoted,” reads the order.
Maloney said the province is watching the evidence closely and will make changes if needed.
Personal risk assessment
The head of microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine said there are many factors when considering if you should attend a large event you may have tickets to.
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“How many people are going to be there? What are the chances that I could stay two or more metres away from everyone? How long am I going to spend there and how good is the ventilation? Is it an indoor environment or outdoor environment?” said Dr. Chris Mody.
Mody said the larger the group size, the greater the chances of exposure.
“I think that distancing is important. We’ve previously said distances of two meters but we know that in some circumstances, two meters may not be enough,” said Mody.
“In a venue where you’re in a hall or a stadium, for example, if that person is 30 or 40 metres away and infected, with reasonable ventilation it’s unlikely you’re going to be exposed to that virus because the distance is far enough.”
Smaller venues not required to cut capacity
Smaller venues, such as movie theatres aren’t required to cut capacity if they are part of the restriction exemption program. But one chain has during this latest wave.
“At Landmark, we’ve decided to restrict capacity five days of the week. We’re offering physically distanced showtimes where we keep the capacity to about 50 per cent, lots of distance for all of those customers,” said Bill Walker, CEO, Landmark Cinemas Canada.
Friday and Saturday is full capacity.
Sanitation practices between shows are being maintained along with mandatory masks in common areas.
“We think theaters should be one of those venues that are viewed as on a relative basis, certainly more safe than others. Because you sit quietly in one direction and don’t talk there’s very few things you can do in public that are safer than that,” said Walker.
Cineplex said it is not reducing capacity, based on provincial guidelines in Alberta.
“As we have done throughout, Cineplex will continue to follow all guidelines set forth by all levels of government,’ said Melissa Pressacco, communications director with Cineplex.
Cineplex said in addition to proof of vaccine and mandatory masks, it has enhanced cleaning, safety signage and reserved seating.