GREAT FALLS — 2020 was the year of COVID-19, but the far-reaching impacts of the pandemic went beyond case numbers and mask mandates. Western Art Week events, rodeos and concerts at the MontanaFair, St. Patrick’s Day parades and more fell by the wayside as health officials cautioned against large gatherings.
While the pandemic is not over, health officials and the general public certainly know much more about the virus that causes COVID-19. That’s led us to where we are now: event planners are beginning to devise plans and work with local health officials to revive the events that were lost in 2020.
“We had to fill out a packet to get permission from the City-County Health Department, and we submitted that packet on Monday, and we received approval late last night (Thursday),” said Katie Hanning. “So, it was actually a pretty quick turnaround for them.”
Hanning is the executive officer for the Home Builders Association of Great Falls. Perhaps more significant in this instance is the fact that she’s one of the main event planners responsible for organizing the Great Falls Home & Garden Show each year.
The show was canceled in 2020, marking the first time that’s happened since its inception in 1980. Now it’s one of the first events in Cascade County to officially receive approval to return in 2021. March 26 through March 28, the show will return to the Montana ExpoPark; Friday from noon to 8:00 P.M., Saturday from 10:00 A.M. until 8:00 P.M., and Sunday from 10:00 A.M. until 4:00 P.M.
“You’ll come in and you’ll go to the box office to purchase your ticket. It’s all safe and they put all those screens in front of the windows so you’re safe,” explained Hanning. “You’ll come in, you’ll tour the show and as you’re done, other people will come in, because we are limiting the number of people in the show at a time. But it will be kind of nice, you won’t be wall to wall people, it will be a really nice shopping experience and we’re almost sold out, so there will be lots of vendors, and like always we have about 30 new vendors in the show, so it will be a nice, wonderful way to reopen after that dark time of the virus. But it is all socially distanced, wearing a mask, there will be hand sanitizer areas there.”
The Home & Garden Show will be limited to 1,000 guests inside the venues at a time, but Hanning and the other organizers are hoping that the Cascade City-County Health Department will give them clearance to allow even more people inside at once, as long as all social distancing and other health guidelines can be followed.
The process to receive approval from the CCHD is a bit lengthy (details), but Hanning said she was pleasantly surprised to find that not only was it relatively easy, but the turnaround time was very quick too.
Let’s look at some of the things that event planners will be asked to do while filling out the Event Planning Packet. The checklist breaks the process down into three parts: Part 1: Plan for social distancing and reducing shared contact surfaces, Part 2: Plan for cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting, Part 3: Employee/volunteer/participant health agreement.
On page three, event planners will have to answer questions about their plans for social distancing and other related safety protocols. They should have information on hand such as where eventgoers will be coming from, the maximum capacity of the venue(s), and how they plan to share information/guidelines for attendees.
In Part 2, the document provides an explanation of the differences between cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing commonly used equipment or areas, and also gives some guidance on when it’s a good idea to clean, disinfect, and sanitize your event location(s). Then event planners are asked to describe their plans to “meet or exceed event cleaning/sanitizing requirements.”
Lastly, event planners are asked to do what just about everyone is asked to do when they enter a doctor’s office these days, confirm that they have not had any symptoms that could be related to COVID-19. Hanning says that the usual COVID-19 protocols will be in place at the Home & Garden show, including social distancing, mask usage, and a plea to anyone planning to attend the event to stay home if they feel sick.
Now the question is, how many more events will we see follow suit in Cascade County and submit requests for approval to the CCHD?