As Saskatoon festivals gear up for summer, microbiology professor urges caution

A microbiology professor recommends people attending summer festivals in Saskatoon wear masks and make sure they are fully vaccinated.

City to host Saskatoon Ex, Fringe Festival, Jazz Festival in next few weeks

People attending events like the Saskatoon Fringe Festival and Saskatoon Ex should wear a mask and make sure they're fully vaccinated, says a microbiology professor at York University. (Peter Mills/CBC)

A microbiology professor recommends people attending summer festivals in Saskatoon wear masks and make sure they are fully vaccinated.

Over the next several weeks, three major festivals — the Saskatoon Fringe Festival, SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival and Saskatoon Ex — will get underway in Saskatoon. While all three are mainly outside this year, and extra safety protocols are being brought in, professor Dasantila Golemi-Kotra said people should still be careful.

While being outdoors reduces the risk of spreading COVID-19, she said the circumstances of the event matter.

"If you're in a large crowd and you're standing in that large crowd for quite some time, more than 60 minutes, being outdoors doesn't really matter much," said Golemi-Kotra, a microbiology professor at York University.

"You're surrounded by people, and especially if these activities involve talking loudly and singing, especially in music festivals, being outdoors doesn't really change much at all."

Golemi-Kotra said wearing masks to these events and keeping distance from other parties is a wise option, despite the provincial government's decision to end COVID-19 restrictions on July 11.

She said fully vaccinated people who are in regular contact with elderly people should also be careful. While vaccines lower the transmissibility rate, they do not drop it to zero.

"I do have family and friends that are elderly, and I do visit them a couple of days in a week," she said.

"I'm mindful that although the person may be vaccinated, they're still elderly. So, that makes me concerned."

Golemi-Kotra is also concerned about Saskatchewan's vaccination rate of young people, who may be more likely to visit festivals. As of Thursday, 43 per cent of people aged 18 to 29 had received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

She said a crowd vaccination rate of 80 per cent is generally seen as safe.

Keeping safe

Meanwhile, festivals said they were doing their best to keep people as safe as possible.

While the Saskatoon Fringe Festival has two indoor venues this year, masks are required while people are not in their seats and seating is being staggered to keep parties separated.

The festival is also asking for people's information for contact tracing and limiting the number of seats that are sold.

"Fortunately, our sites are quite large," said Anita Smith, artistic and executive director of 25th Street Theatre.

"We've done the math and we're able to accommodate quite a few people while still maintaining physical distancing."

The theatre has also set up an outside venue at W.E. Graham Park, and is offering 25 online shows from artists around the world.

Meanwhile, the Saskatoon Ex has moved any of its traditionally inside activities, like the trade show and indoor theatre, outside this year.

"We are trying to keep it very safe," said Susan Kuzma, manager of special events with Priaireland Park.

"There will be a large number of hand sanitizer stations throughout the outdoor area. And we're spacing some of our concessions and things like that out farther apart just to allow for lineups."

The Saskatoon Fringe Festival will be held July 29 to Aug. 7, while the SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival will be held Aug. 7 to 15 and the Saskatoon Ex will be held Aug. 6 to 8 and Aug. 11 to 15.