Risk mitigation tool for gatherings and events operating during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Objective: This tool will assist individuals, groups, or organizations, representing diverse groups based on gender, ethnicity/culture, and other socio-economic and demographic factors, in considering risks related to planning, organizing or operating gatherings/events during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, and provide examples of measures that may be implemented to mitigate potential risks of the spread of COVID-19.

Audience: People responsible for gatherings/events such as planners, organizers and operators (e.g., individuals, families, businesses, religious/cultural leaders, people responsible for community gathering spaces, municipalities, jurisdictions).

The decision-making process to determine whether gatherings/events should occur is the collaborative responsibility of public health authorities, relevant ministries and Indigenous community governance structures based on a rigorous risk assessment and on a set of readiness criteria and indicators. Once authorities permit gatherings/events of different purposes and sizes, planners, organizers and operators can use this tool as a resource to assess the risks associated with their specific gatherings/events and implement strategies to mitigate these risks. Larger gatherings/events (of more than >250 attendees) are not envisioned to occur until significant population immunity is achieved and public health measures can be lifted.

For Canadians seeking public health advice on small gatherings/events of family and friends, please refer to the Public Health Agency of Canada's awareness resources to find information on personal preventive practices such as physical distancing, hand hygiene, and cleaning and disinfecting, as these practices will be essential in preventing and reducing COVID-19 spread.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many provinces and territories established public health orders restricting gatherings/events of different purposes and sizes in order to contain COVID-19 spread. Refer to your provincial or territorial website for details on current restrictions related to gatherings/events as well as relevant tools and guidelines pertinent to your jurisdiction. As provinces and territories progressively lift or adjust restrictive public health measures, considerations will be given to gradually ease restrictions on gatherings/events of different purposes and sizes, as recommended in the Guidance for a strategic approach to lifting restrictive public health measures. Provinces and territories' decisions on resuming these gatherings/events will vary across jurisdictions over the course of the pandemic based on local epidemiology, and public health and health care capacity.

For the purposes of this tool, gatherings/events include a range of interpersonal gatherings/events of varying purposes and sizes, from gatherings/events of family and friends (e.g., weddings, funerals, baptisms, birthday parties and cultural ceremonies) to community gathering spaces (e.g., places of worship, places of traditional gatherings,  libraries, community and recreation centres, drop-in centres, women's centres, food banks and communal kitchens, museums, theatres, cinemas, and tourist attractions) to larger planned or structured gatherings/events, including mass gatheringsFootnote 1 (e.g., large meetings or conferences, national sporting events, large cultural/religious events, festivals). 

Public health measures taken by planners, organizers and operators of gatherings/events are part of Canada's collective approach to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19. This tool is based on concepts outlined in the guidance developed for community-based measures titled: Community-Based Measures to Mitigate the Spread of Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) in Canada. It reflects the currently available scientific evidence and expert opinion, and is subject to change as new information on COVID-19 transmissibility and epidemiology emerges, and the effectiveness of public health and risk mitigation measures becomes available.

All planners, organizers and operators of gatherings/events, regardless of their purposes and sizes, have an inherent responsibility to assess the risks associated with their gatherings/events and their ability to mitigate these risks. Planners and organizers of larger gatherings/events, as well as those lasting several days, should collaborate with public health authorities, relevant ministries, and Indigenous community governance structures to consider the potential impact of their gatherings/events on the community's healthcare and public health systems. In doing so, they should consider the ability of those systems to manage additional potential COVID-19 cases that may emerge as a result of the gatherings/events. Larger gatherings/events may pose a greater risk of COVID-19 spread if there is a large number of attendees over an extended period of time, and gatherings/events that last longer may present more opportunities for transmission due to increase duration, frequency and intensity of interactions between attendees. These partners and stakeholders can also provide additional direction and guidance to planners and organizers on key mitigation strategies that may need to be prioritized such as the need for an emergency preparedness and response plan or outbreak management protocols.

Planners, organizers and operators of indoor public community gathering spaces that operate continuously (e.g., recreation facilities such as gyms, libraries, museums, theatres, cinemas) can also refer to the Risk mitigation tool for workplaces/businesses operating during the COVID-19 pandemic for guidance on risk factors and risk mitigation measures specific to employers, employees and clients, such as the use of personal protective equipment and non-medical masks (NMM). Planners and organizers of gatherings and events catering primarily to children and youth, or gatherings/events offering childcare on site to facilitate participation of certain attendees, can refer to the Risk mitigation tool for child and youth settings operating during the COVID-19 pandemic for guidance tailored to that population. Planners and organizers of gatherings and events being held outdoors, can also refer to Risk mitigation tool for outdoor recreation spaces and activities operating during the COVID-19 pandemic, for additional examples of mitigation strategies.

What are the COVID-19 risks at your gathering/event?

The following facts about COVID-19 and associated questions can help you consider the risks of COVID-19 at your gathering/event.

The risk level is affected by whether there is COVID-19 transmission in the local community where the gathering/event is occurring. If there is known COVID-19 activity in the community, the likelihood that it could be introduced at the gathering/event is higher. The risk of COVID-19 introduction and spread at the gathering/event is also presumed to be greater if a higher proportion of attendees come from outside of the community, where active local transmission is occurring. In general, measures put in place to mitigate risks should be proportionate with the risk in the host community or with the risk in the surrounding communities where attendees are coming from, which is informed by local epidemiology including social, economic and demographic factors. Public health authorities can be consulted for information about local COVID-19 transmission.

COVID-19 spreads from person to person, most commonly through respiratory droplets (e.g., generated by coughing, sneezing, laughing, singing, shouting or talking) during close interactions (i.e., within 2 metres). People who have COVID-19 may have few to no symptoms, or symptoms may be mild. COVID-19 can be spread by infected individuals who have mild symptoms, or who have not yet or who may never develop symptoms.

COVID-19 can also be spread through touching something with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands.

The risk of COVID-19 spread can vary based on the characteristics of the gathering/event and the location/venue.

COVID-19 can cause more severe disease or outcomes among older adults (increasing risk with each decade, especially over 60 years); people of any age with chronic medical conditions (e.g., lung disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, stroke or, dementia); people of any age who are immunocompromised, including those with an underlying medical condition (e.g., cancer) or taking medications which lower the immune system (e.g., chemotherapy); people living with obesity (BMI of 40 or higher).

COVID-19 can be spread when personal preventive practices are not consistently followed.

How can event planners, organizers and operators of gathering/events mitigate COVID-19 risks?

To prevent or limit the spread of COVID-19 at gatherings/events, consider the risk mitigation principles and measures outlined in this section. Risk mitigation measures that are more protective involve separating people from each other and limiting access to shared surfaces through physical distancing and physical barriers. However, these protective measures are not always possible at larger gatherings/events. Measures that are less protective rely on individuals to consistently and properly follow personal protective practices (e.g., hand hygiene, wearing of NMM or cloth face coverings). To maximize safety, use a “layered” approach with multiple measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread, including decreasing the number of interactions with others and increasing the safety of interactions. Layering multiple mitigation measures strengthens the overall potential to mitigate COVID-19 risks. If planners and organizers have concerns regarding their ability to mitigate risks appropriately, either by implementing more protective measures or layering multiple measures, they can consult with public health authorities for additional advice on whether or not the gatherings/events should occur.

The following examples of risk mitigation measures are provided for your consideration, as per the risk factors associated with your gathering/event, and are not meant to be used as a checklist. Planners, organizers, and operators of gatherings/events are encouraged to find creative and adaptive ways to mitigate risks for their gathering/event that align with public health advice and are respectful of attendees, staff and the communities in which they occur. 

Discourage people who are ill from accessing/attending the gathering/event.

Develop plans for dealing with attendees who become ill and/or are suspected of having COVID-19 while at the gathering/event.

Promote and facilitate personal preventive practices. Everyone plays a part in making gatherings/events safer including attendees, planners, organizers, operators, contractors, and all others who interact with the setting before, during or after the gathering/event.

Promote physical distancing (keeping a distance of 2 metres from others), which is one of the most effective ways to reduce the spread of illness.

Create physical barriers between attendees and/or staff when physical distancing is not possible.

Increase ventilation.

Mitigate risks from exposure to high-touch surfaces (i.e. frequently touched by others).

Mitigate risk for people at risk of more severe disease or outcomes due to COVID-19.

Modify practices and programming to reduce how long attendees are in contact with each other and how many attendees come into contact with each other.

Consider whether a policy about attendees wearing masks is required for your gathering/event.

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