Photos of unmasked people at Eric Church concert in Saskatoon spark debate

October 26, 2021
Photos of unmasked people at Eric Church concert in Saskatoon spark debate

Photos of unmasked fans at the Eric Church concert in Saskatoon on Saturday are floating around social media, prompting discussion of whether such events are appropriate during a pandemic.

The pictures from the show at SaskTel Centre have rekindled debate about the concert and similar big events during a time when COVID-19 patients are being transferred to Ontario due to Saskatchewan’s overwhelmed intensive care units.

“When COVID first started, we did cancel mass events out of caution,” said retired doctor and health policy advisor Dennis Kendel from Saskatoon.

“Perhaps this event should have been cancelled.”

The executive director of the SaskTel Centre disagrees. 

According to Scott Ford, the concert went “extremely well” and in general people were following COVID-19 policies.

An interim province-wide mandatory masking order for indoor public places is currently in place in Saskatchewan, including at concerts. 

If a venue provides food or beverages, masks can only be removed while people are seated and consuming food or drinks, according to the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health.

“People were eating and drinking all the time at any given time,” said Ford about the Eric Church concert, adding that the food and beverage sales were very high.

“The public health order allows people to remove their masks while they’re enjoying their food and beverages. And that’s exactly what happened.”

Sask. needs to revisit current public health orders, says health policy advisor

Kendel said the food and drink explanation is not good enough to justify the amount of fans without masks in some of the photos online.

He said he has seen similar behaviour on airplanes, where people keep a bottle of water in their hand, rarely drinking, just to have a reason to keep their masks off.

“The government of Saskatchewan needs to revisit the current public health orders and add some public health orders and possibly strengthen or clarify the one about masking,” said Kendel.

The current masking requirements work well in most facilities and restaurants, he said, but not at big events like Saturday’s concert.

“Perhaps if there’s going to be mass events, there needs to be rules that apply to the mass events.”

More than 13,000 fans at SaskTel Centre

About 13,300 fans attended Eric Church, the first big concert in one-and-a-half years at the venue, said the SaskTel executive director.

“I think the masking went well,” said Ford, adding that he was proud of how the staff performed their duties at the show.

While there were no public announcements to remind people of wearing masks during the concert, there was signage and an audio loop playing outside, said Ford.

“Everybody takes pictures and then everybody says that no one is following the rules. In general they were,” he said. 

About 10 to 12 people had to be evicted because they were “blatantly” not following the masking rules, Ford said.

Given the amount of people with no masks shown on the photos, Kendel said “it’s incredible” that only around 10 people out of the whole crowd were removed.

“Once people were in their seats, I think the masking kind of went down quite a bit,” said Aden Merk, who attended the show.

The 21-year-old university student said he enjoyed watching a live concert again for the first time since 2019.

Fans are celebrating at the Eric Church concert in Saskatoon on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021. The next big event at the SaskTel Centre is going to be the Professional Bull Riders Canada Elite Cup Series from Oct. 23 to 30, 2021. (Submitted)

Merk said most people waiting in line and walking around the concourse were wearing masks.

He estimated that around half of the crowd in his area was wearing masks during the whole concert.

“People weren’t kind of putting it on and off in between sips of their drink or bites of their food,” said Merk.

“They were kind of not wearing one while they had a drink in front of them.”

Merk said he didn’t see anyone walking around in his seating area to tell people to put on masks.

Proof of vaccination or negative test result required

The fans were not only supposed to wear masks, but also show proof of vaccination upon entering SaskTel Centre or provide a negative COVID-19 test.

Merk said he felt safe knowing that he and most people around him were fully vaccinated.

“We all had a good time and we all felt comfortable being there,” he said.

Ford said a lot of people were turned away from the concert for not having the proper documentation.

While staff didn’t keep track of the total number of fans who were denied entry, Ford said he turned away around six personally.

The provincial Ministry of Health said in an email that it heard media reports about not everyone being checked for proof of vaccination.

“It is the responsibility of facility and event organizers,” the ministry said in a written statement.

“Public health inspectors will be reaching out to the venue to discuss the concerns.”

While some police officers were present at the concert, Saskatoon Police Service said in an email that they were not aware of any COVID-related tickets being issued, “as that was not our role at the event.”

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