Large gatherings like downtown block party taking place during 4th wave 'a concern,' Saskatoon mayor says

·4 min read
Hudsons hosted this packed outdoor downtown block party in Saskatoon on Aug. 27 and again the following night.  (Hudsons/Facebook - image credit)
Hudsons hosted this packed outdoor downtown block party in Saskatoon on Aug. 27 and again the following night. (Hudsons/Facebook - image credit)

Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark says large events happening locally during Saskatchewan's fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic are worrying and that the city is doing what's in its power to mitigate any resulting spread at future events.

"It's a concern," Clark said Monday on CBC's Saskatoon Morning when asked about recent gatherings such as a downtown block party held by Hudsons last weekend. "I mean, things have evolved so quickly in the last 10 days."

The dance event took place last Friday and Saturday, hours after public health officials reported 258 and 369 new cases of COVID-19, with Saskatoon leading all regions in new cases on both days. On Thursday, Health Minister Paul Merriman said Saskatchewan was showing signs of entering a fourth wave.

A week and a half earlier, on Aug. 16, a COVID-19 outbreak was declared at Hudsons. The outbreak was still listed as active by provincial health officials as of Tuesday.

Videos of the block party show a packed crowd as well as a long line for those waiting to get in.

CBC News reached to Hudsons for comment on Monday and Tuesday, in part to ask what was done to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at the event, and has not received a response.

The City of Saskatoon and city council typically only play a limited role in overseeing such events.

On Aug. 9 — when only 54 new cases of COVID-19 were reported province-wide — city council's committee on environment, utilities and corporate services approved a noise bylaw extension request from Hudsons allowing the restaurant to hold the block party with loud music on both nights until 1 a.m.

General manager Greg Clark addressed committee members and said there was a lot of community demand for the event (which was held in 2018 and 2019) over the previous six weeks.

"We just really think that with everything that's gone on the last 15, 16 months, that the community realizes and it being an outdoor event like this, there's still a lot of people that don't want to go indoors," Clark said. "I think it's a really good opportunity for people to get outdoors, have some fun."

The word "COVID" was not uttered once during discussion of the event and only one committee member, Councillor Darren Hill, had a question for Clark, one centering on the noise component.

CBC News asked the city if it played any further role in vetting the event from a COVID mitigation standpoint and whether the city had any power to pull the plug on the event amid concerning signs.

"The city reviews permits from a municipal perspective such as traffic, parking restrictions, etc.," according to a city spokesperson. "The province of Saskatchewan has the responsibility for public health matters. Currently, there is no public health order restricting events such as this one."

City to work with organizers: mayor

The Saskatchewan government rescinded all of its COVID-19 public health restrictions, including limits on the number of people who could attend public outdoor gatherings, in early July as the province's COVID-19 caseload decreased.

Events like Taste of Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival soon followed in Saskatoon.

"When we were first looking at the summer schedule and festivals and events, there was a sense that we can do this now. Vaccines are out there. People are safe. These numbers are down," Mayor Charlie Clark said. "And it's just literally within the last seven or eight days where the reality has shifted."

Saskatchewan's seven-day average of daily new cases stood at 248 as of Tuesday, compared to 159 one week before, 118 two weeks before, and 78 three weeks before.

Clark cited the upcoming Nutrien Fireworks Festival and said the city will be working closely with organizers "on making sure there's good measures and controls in place," even though "we don't have necessarily the authority."

"We do not have a public health department as a city to go in and we don't have a public health order that we can enforce because the provincial government hasn't released that," Clark said. "So we're going to be working with the organizers, trying to ensure that these controls are in place.

"But now it is a concern when we see these types of gatherings and unfortunately we know COVID is spreading, especially among young adults right now. And so, yes, it is a concern. And we are seeing what we can do."

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