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Pandemic, Planning, and Public Health in the Arts Community

What a wild journey we have all been on since the arrival of SARSCov- 2 in early 2020. Casting my mind back, I remember hearing reports of a deadly virus in China. Shortly afterward I began hearing about its detection in a variety of European countries with it moving swiftly toward us as Spring Break approached.

Will Heller, Safety Advisor, Performing Arts, Actsafe Safety Association

In the early days, not much was known about the virus, and we could not have predicted the effect it would have on the arts and entertainment industries.

The arts and entertainment industries paused following BC’s declaration of a state of emergency on March 17. Those who could work from home did, and those who didn’t have this option were unsure of what to do next. The Actsafe team’s inboxes were filled with questions from the industries wondering if we knew when they were going to be able to resume production.

To field some of the questions and open up the conversation, Don Parman, Actsafe’s Manager for Performing Arts Programs and Services, began holding virtual meetings, What Would Don Do (WWDD), with the performing arts and live events sector. Weekly, Don shared the information Actsafe had on next steps and answered any questions the industry had.

The numbers attending WWDD grew in May following the first public health order regarding the requirement for COVID-19 Safety Plans, which left our industries in a predicament. While the safety plans were required to be posted on websites and be available on site for various regulators, there was no way to tell if the plans were adequate.

Enter Actsafe.

Actsafe launched a COVID-19 Safety Plan review process for both the performing arts and motion picture industries. This all happened at the same time that the motion picture industry, in collaboration with Actsafe, developed a set of guidelines on how to keep productions running.

On the performing arts and live events side, the review process is an entirely confidential and voluntary process. While reviewing the safety plans, we do not provide an approval or disapproval of the plan but strive to provide means for an organization to improve their plans (something promoted now by public health and WorkSafeBC alike).

In the months since those initial requirements, we have reviewed almost 60 unique COVID-19 Safety Plans.

Compared to today, some of the plans in the early days had targets that were quite few and simple. As time progressed the requirements of the orders became more specific, and the release of the “Gatherings and Events Order” was not far behind. The goal posts for meeting the requirements of the orders have moved a number of times–in fact, in November there were updates to the order almost weekly–but we have continued to work hard and seek answers with our industry.

We continue to build our knowledge in the hopes it equips us for putting on shows in the not-too-distant future.

Despite the changes, our sector has remained resilient, adaptive, and creative in its approach. Daily, I see venues, shows, competitions, and event organizers create plans and work on doing their part to reduce the spread – not only among their workforce, but with an everpresent focus on our audiences.

The work is not complete. COVID-19 Safety Plans continue to come in for evaluation some for the first time and many after revision. They still face rigorous review against current requirements of WorkSafeBC and Public Health Orders. The feedback is designed to help you find the answers to questions that may arise based on the requirements of either regulator.

Right now, most events (with few exceptions) are prohibited. While reviewing plans and making plans is an important component to preventing transmission, so is our attention to making those plans come to life at your venue and during your shows. Hopefully one day soon we will be back to putting on shows for in-person audiences.

As the next steps of progression on this journey become clear and a vaccine becomes available, Actsafe will be here to help guide the way by listening to industry and regulators as we develop resources and make suggestions to help you along your safety journey.

Thank you all for your hard work towards safety, and we look forward to a brighter future.

This article was written for our quarterly newsletter, Safety Scene. You can find a link to the full edition below.

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Actsafe Safety Association would like to acknowledge and honour that our workplace and classrooms are located on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Qayqayt, S’ólh Téméxw (Stó:lō), Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group, səl̓ilwətaɁɬ təməxʷ (Tsleil-Waututh), šxʷməθkʷəy̓əmaɁɬ təməxʷ (Musqueam), and Stz’uminus peoples.


Actsafe is a not-for-profit health and safety association supporting British Columbia’s arts and entertainment industries.

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