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Infectious Disease
COVID-19: DHSS Insights

Event organizers join weekly public meetings to share creative ways for hosting safer gatherings during the pandemic 

FEBRUARY 26, 2021 — Organizers are taking creative approaches to continue holding events in ways that prevent spreading COVID-19 during the pandemic. They turned previous in-person events into virtual celebrations. They’ve taken one large event and split it into smaller events to reduce crowd size. They’ve taken something that typically happens indoors and moved it outside. During the past year, organizers have worked with the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) to share ideas with other event planners and communities of faith to help people continue gathering in safer ways.

The new Plan Safer Events project makes sharing ideas easier. The project is a partnership between DHSS and Denali Daniels and Associates. It gives organizers resources that help decide if or how to host events. The project’s staff can connect event organizers with advisors who offer tailored guidance and assistance to plan events in ways that prevent the spread of COVID-19 during the pandemic.
In January, the Plan Safer Events project staff organized a special meeting over Zoom featuring speakers from the City of Seward’s Sports and Recreation team and the Alaska Botanical Garden.

Alaska Botanical Garden splits large summer event into smaller picnics

Mike Monterusso, the Botanical Garden’s executive director, described the COVID-19 safety protocols used during events in the garden. Monterussa recalled asking himself a question: “What is your mitigation plan for these scenarios?” During the Jan. 4 meeting, Monterusso said physical distancing still needs to happen at outdoor events to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“When you get a certain number of people in a spot, it doesn’t matter if you are indoors or outdoors. You’re still easily within six feet of each other,” Monterusso said. He later emphasized organizers have to figure out a way to manage events to ensure that at least six feet of physical distancing is possible at events.

Monterusso decided he needed to shrink the size of popular events after examining the large number of people who typically attend. Smaller numbers of attendees would be needed to follow social distancing guidelines. Despite the garden being an outdoor venue, it still included places where visitors could get in close proximity of one another.

The garden’s staff looked for ways to spread out the number of visitors across different times and days. Staff also started limiting the number of tickets sold on a given day.

Monterusso came up with a new approach to the garden’s annual summer gala. Last summer, he decided to hold multiple weekly picnics instead. This required more staff to manage traffic flow and ensure that social distancing was practiced by all visitors. Even so, Monterusso decided he preferred this change and said he will likely continue holding weekly picnics instead of the summer gala in the future.

Seward event organizers convert indoor event to outdoor celebration

Jenny Rutledge and Jose Vacabustamante with Seward’s Sports and Recreation team shared their experiences planning and hosting events during the pandemic. Before the pandemic, the two ran a facility that included a gym, workout room, sauna and racquetball court. The facility closed in March 2020 due to the pandemic. Since its closure, Rutledge and Vacabustamante have held one event: The Halloween Spooktacular. This Halloween event is usually an indoor carnival with about 200 participants. In 2020, they held a much smaller event outdoors to make it safer. Staff posted signs encouraging social distancing, and attendees wore masks. Staff made sure family groups were six feet apart when lining up at booths, and volunteers from the local fire department helped with traffic flow to minimize close contact with others.

The team in Seward also discussed their plan to host another carpool movie night that requires all attendees to pre-register and park six feet apart. Rutledge described the success of the Dec. 12, 2020, carpool movie night in an Alaska Recreation Parks Association article.
“It was nice to see the community out and about enjoying themselves, and we can’t wait to continue this event, if Alaskan weather will allow it,” she said in the article. 

Rutledge and Vacabustamante highlighted the importance of thinking creatively during the pandemic and overcoming the challenges that arise when needing to do things differently. Looking for solutions was necessary so Rutledge and Vacabustamante could offer the community safer events and ways to continue connecting with others and having fun.

Find more resources for planning gathering and events, and for communities of faith

Monterusso, Rutledge and Vacabustamante shared their ideas during a regular Monday Zoom meeting organized by DHSS, the Plan Safer Events project, and the University of Alaska Anchorage’s (UAA) Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes (ECHO) team. This partnership runs these live ECHO sessions through Zoom. The Events and Faith ECHOs are recorded for later viewing and listening. During 2021, DHSS will work with UAA’s ECHO team to virtually connect event organizers and communities of faith with a panel of professionals to discuss several strategies to safely gather during the pandemic.

To hear recommendations from other event organizers and state representatives, please register for the Events and Faith ECHOs below:

Please find additional resources at the following links: