As the Omicron variant has been causing spikes in COVID-19 cases throughout the province, Clearwater mayor and council discussed whether to host a winter festival in 2022.
Two recommendations were brought to council at the Jan. 4 regular meeting: for staff to continue planning a two-week long 2022 Winterfest; or that council postpones and revisits at a later date.
Coun. Bill Haring started off the conversation asking council, “with today’s COVID situation and all of this, is it wise to put resources towards something this near in the future right now?”
In response, Coun. Shelley Sim noted that many health and medical professionals have warned that COVID won’t be going away anytime soon, and maybe there’s a way to respect restrictions and guidelines, while also providing a way to combat community fatigue and celebrating what Clearwater and surrounding area residents have.
“These types of things provide that lift,” she said. “I think we just have to really put our mind to how do we work knowing that this is with us and is the dark shadow, and we need some sunshine.”
Mayor Merlin Blackwell echoed Coun. Sim’s feelings on the matter, adding that any planning going forward would need to be “penciled in versus marked in stone” to allow for flexibility should restrictions and conditions change for better or worse.
While the staff report notes there is no financial impact no matter how council votes, chief administrative officer John Thomas said the concern isn’t focused on the budget, but on the risk of holding some form of event that “could be a source of spread and the sensitivities around that.”
Coun. Haring noted that he’s not against holding Winterfest event, but in light of conflicting and confusing restrictions, council should be aware of how the public might perceive such an event, especially if more COVID-19 restrictions are implemented.
“I think that to have a festival environment that attracts people is unwise,” said Coun. Sim in response. “If we have a winter fest we don’t have to define it for group gathering, there’s other ways to do it…change how we define what a festival is so it becomes inclusive, still gives us something to celebrate, but it doesn’t mean we all have to come together in mass numbers.”
Some ideas included an outdoor story walk and outdoor photo activity or scavenger hunt.
Council voted in favour of staff continuing to plan for a two-week 2022 Winterfest event.