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Event Planning During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Introduction

This tip sheet will help employers, workers, and attendees protect themselves and others from COVID-19 when planning and attending gatherings or events.

For general COVID-19 prevention practices, refer to these CCOHS documents:
Protect Yourself and Others from COVID-19,
COVID-19 Health and Safety Planning for Employers, and
COVID-19 Prevention for Workers.

If your event includes participation in sports or religious gatherings, please refer to CCOHS documents: COVID-19 Sports Activities and COVID-19 Places of Worship.

Meet your legal occupational health and safety obligations by doing everything reasonably possible under the circumstances to protect the health and safety of your workers. In all cases, guidance from local public health authorities must be followed. Also refer to current guidance from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), and your jurisdictional OHS regulator.

Considerations When Assessing Risk

The risk of COVID-19 transmission increases when people are in closed spaces (with poor ventilation), and in crowded places with people outside of their immediate household. Risk is higher in settings where these factors overlap and/or involve activities such as close-range conversations, singing, shouting or heavy breathing (e.g., during exertion).

The COVID-19 virus may also spread when a person touches another person (e.g., a handshake) or a surface of an object (also referred to as a fomite) that has the virus on it, and then touches their mouth, nose or eyes with unwashed hands.

Participating in events may involve close contact with other people and frequently touched surfaces. The chance of COVID-19 spreading in these settings depends on the number and characteristics of attendees (e.g., age, maturity, physical ability, comprehension), proximity and duration of interactions between attendees, and the measures put in place by employers to reduce risk of virus spread. Each gathering or event may have unique situations. Assess the risk for each activity and interaction separately.

Develop or use an existing risk assessment checklist to document activities where people work closely with others (< 2 metres), in crowded places, in closed spaces (with poor ventilation), with items touched by others, and/or in activities requiring forceful exhalation (speaking loudly, etc.). Review all services and activities provided by third parties (e.g., food, childcare, camps, etc.). Consider the following:

  • What activities will your workers do? Examples: screening, reception, customer service, set up and take down of tables and chairs, preparing or serving food, cleaning, and disinfecting, etc.
  • Who will attend the event? Is it only for a group of people who regularly have contact (such as a group of workers), or is it offered to others (i.e., family and friends, or people from outside these groups)?
  • How many people will attend the event?
  • Is the event scheduled for a limited number of pre-registered attendees or can anyone drop in?
  • Will attendees have close contact (i.e., within 2 metres) with one another?
  • Will attendees have prolonged or cumulative interactions with others?
  • Will attendees have contact with high-touch surfaces or shared items (e.g., washrooms, door handles, service counters, electronic or athletic equipment, musical instruments, etc.)?
  • Can extra equipment be moved or removed from the area to promote the greatest physical distancing possible?
  • What activities will be offered? Do they involve loud verbal instructions (shouting, yelling, singing) or music?
  • Are food and beverages being served?
  • How long will the event last? The longer the length of time, the higher the risk.
  • Will the event be indoors or outdoors? Will it be held at one or multiple locations?
  • Does the size of the facility allow for physical distancing measures?

Considerations When Implementing Control Measures

Determine the measures required to effectively control the transmission of COVID-19. Use the hierarchy of controls to include elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative policies, and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Include public health personal preventative measures in your safety plan. Generally, these include COVID-19 vaccination, limiting occupancy and gathering limits, screening, physical distancing, enhanced cleaning and disinfecting, and the wearing of masks.

A written safety plan may be legally required within your jurisdiction. It may need to be posted, and available upon request from an inspector. Refer to your jurisdiction for instructions on what must be included in the plan.

Consider the impact of your control measures on your ability to provide services:

  • How will workers who are unable to report to work because they are sick, awaiting test results, quarantined, or in isolation be supported?
  • What are the recommendations for workers who need to care for school aged children?
  • How will volunteer roles in the community be fulfilled?
  • The risk of severe illness of your workers and their families if they belong to a high risk group. How will they be accommodated?

Communication and Training

Inform and train all workers on the risks of COVID-19, symptoms, and the measures to help control transmission. Make sure all staff and others know the preventative measures in place before they arrive onsite.

  • Consider the ability of workers and others to follow the recommended measures based on their health, age, disability, developmental status, or other socio-economic and demographic circumstances.
  • Could language barriers impact the ability of attendees to understand and follow the transmission control measures?

Post signs throughout the facility to encourage physical distancing, use of masks, cleaning and disinfecting of equipment, and proper hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette. Include workplace-specific information and your safety plan. See CCOHS’s Fact Checking COVID-19 Information for tips on choosing COVID-19 resources.

  • Encourage staff to only work at one location and assign cohort groups of workers to the same shifts every week, if possible.
  • Make sure staff are trained to work safely, including when replacing the duties of others.
  • Help attendees understand that protective measures and any reduced services are necessary, and that their event experience might be different. Ask them to be considerate of workers and other attendees.
  • Ask attendees to arrive no more than 15 minutes before event start time and to leave promptly afterward.
  • Consider a website or phone-based advanced booking system to help manage the number of attendees onsite and to reduce waiting.
  • Send any necessary forms, waivers, etc. electronically.
  • Notify workers and attendees of closures of any event or amenities (e.g., restricted access to building, washrooms, lockers etc.).

COVID-19 Vaccines

Discuss the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination with your workers. Consider whether those who work or volunteer with vulnerable populations should be prioritized. For current information on the vaccines authorized for use and how to register, please refer to the Government of Canada website, Vaccines for COVID-19.

Screening

Encourage workers and others to stay home if they are sick or might be sick. Follow self-assessment steps from the Public Health Agency of Canada or your local public health authority.

“Active screening” may be legally mandated in some jurisdictions and involves asking questions about a person’s health and possible exposures. Active screening may involve a self-assessment (e.g., using a web-based tool, having a person complete a questionnaire, or have a designated person asking direct questions).

Consider the size of your workforce, the number of worksites, shifts, and activities when choosing your screening method. Use a checklist or questionnaire provided by your local public health authority. Determine the procedures for how workers will screen individuals entering the event.

If readily available and feasible, consider implementing routine rapid testing of all consenting workers as an additional active screening measure. Consider how you will manage the response to a rapid test result.

Anyone who does not pass screening should not enter the workplace, should wear a medical mask, if available (otherwise, wear a well-constructed and well-fitting non-medical mask), return home (while avoiding public transit as much as possible), contact their health care provider or local public health authority and follow their advice.

Develop procedures for contacting local public health authorities for further advice in the event of a positive COVID-19 case. If the case is work-related, additional notifications may be required (e.g., the jurisdictional health and safety regulator and worker compensation board for your province or territory). Complete and incident report and begin an investigation.

Contact Tracing

Consider keeping a record of the names and contact information for your workers, contractors and attendees who enter your workplace for contact tracing purposes. Information should include their name, phone number and/or email, the date and time they entered the building, and what section or area of the building or they visited.

Keep contact tracing information only for as long as needed (e.g., 30 calendar days). Maintain confidentiality and ensure the information is gathered, used, stored and destroyed in accordance with your privacy laws.

Encourage staff to consider installing the COVID Alert App on their phone. This app is designed to let Canadians know whether they may have been exposed to COVID-19. The app maintains one’s privacy; it does not record or share geographic location.

Reducing Potential Exposures During a Gathering or Event

  • Attendees should be permitted only for the duration of the event and leave promptly when the event is over.
  • As much as possible, prioritize outdoor activities where the greatest physical distancing between individuals can be maintained.
  • If providing portable toilets, also provide portable handwashing stations and ensure that they remain stocked throughout the duration of the event.
  • Ensure the event is adequately stocked with supplies for handwashing, including soap and water or hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, paper towels, tissues, and no-touch trash cans.
  • If possible, provide hand sanitizer stations that are touch-free.
  • Shut off water fountains or replace them with water bottle refill stations. Each person should have their own labelled water bottle.
  • Remove communal coat check areas. Allow workers to store their personal items separately or in sealed bins or bags, if they do not have lockers.
  • If food and/or drinks are being served, consider that people congregating around food service areas can pose a risk.
  • Remind guests and servers to clean their hands before getting food or drinks.
  • Do not provide food or drinks as self-serve or buffet style. Instead provide individual plates or have workers dish the food to limit sharing of serving utensils. Consider having pre-packaged boxes or bags for each attendee.
  • If a cafeteria or group dining room is used, serve individually plated meals or grab-and-go options.
  • Limit the number of people serving and have servers wear a mask.
  • Use disposable dishes and cutlery. If disposable items are not feasible or desirable, ensure that all food service items are handled with clean hands (as directed by public health authority) and washed with dish soap and hot water or in a dishwasher.
  • Alternatively, ask guests to bring their own food and drinks, and avoid sharing snacks, or plates and cutlery.
  • Individuals should wash their hands before putting on and after removing their gloves or after directly handling used food service items.
  • Follow all food safety precautions related to temperature and storage of hot and cold foods.
  • Discard any uneaten open, thawed, prepared, cooked, or ready-to-eat foods (i.e., do not keep/share leftovers).
  • Encourage attendees to remain seated when eating or drinking except while:
    • Entering or exiting the area or while moving to their table, placing, picking up, or paying for an order
    • Going to or returning from a washroom
    • Lining up to do anything described above
    • Where necessary for the purpose of health and safety
  • Discourage singing, yelling, and chanting. Reduce background noise and music levels so people can speak as quietly as possible.
  • Discourage unnecessary physical contact such as hugs, handshakes, and high fives.
  • Consider additional measures to protect workers and attendees who are at risk for more severe disease or outcomes from COVID-19, such as offering online attendance options.

Physical Distancing

Research shows that COVID-19 transmits between people primarily through airborne routes. All close person to person interactions could result in transmission. Determine if in-person interactions are essential, and allow workers to work from home whenever possible.

Maintain the greatest distance possible (at least 2 metres) from others wherever possible. Keep all in-person interactions as few and as brief as possible.

  • Do not exceed the maximum gathering and event limits for your jurisdiction.
  • Set occupancy limits for the event to allow available room for spacing people at least 2 metres apart.
  • Host smaller events in larger spaces where possible.
  • Elevator occupancy should be limited to allow for physical distancing to be maintained.
  • While the event is taking place, consider limiting any non-essential visitors, volunteers, and activities involving external groups or organizations from being onsite.
  • Consider staggered times for workers and attendees to arrive to the event. Consider how people will use or travel through shared spaces, such as hallways and washrooms. Establish one-way routes where appropriate, using floor markings, signage, and other visual cues.
  • Restrict people from entering zones they do not perform work in or need access to (does not apply in emergency situations).
  • Change seating layout or availability of seating so that people can remain least 2 metres (6 feet) apart. Block off rows or sections of seating to promote the greatest distancing possible between people.

Ventilation

Continually ventilating indoor spaces will dilute and replace potentially contaminated air.

Make sure that heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems operate properly. Consult an HVAC professional before making changes to the ventilation system(s).

Increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible by opening building windows and doors or other methods if it does not pose a safety risk.

Make sure exhaust fans in restrooms are fully functional, operating at maximum capacity, and remain on.

Avoid blowing or circulating air from one person to another with cooling fans as it might increase the spread of COVID-19. Adjust building ventilation systems and air conditioning units instead, to:

  • Increase filtration efficiency to the highest level appropriate for the system.
  • Increase fresh air flow/percentage of outdoor air.
  • Limit use of demand-controlled ventilation; keep system running at the optimal setting.

If the use of a table or pedestal fan is unavoidable, it is important to regularly bring in air from outside by opening windows or doors, while minimizing how much air blows from one person (or group of people) to another person (or group of people).

For additional detailed information on ventilation, please refer to the Government of Canada website COVID-19: Guidance on indoor ventilation during the pandemic and the CCOHS document COVID-19 Tip Sheet: Ventilation.

Personal Hygiene

Post signs at entrances, in washrooms, and other areas throughout the workplace to promote good hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.

Hand wash and hand sanitizer stations should be well stocked and easy to find, near the entrance and exits to buildings, and accessible at all work locations. Install touchless motion sensing appliances where possible.

Promote proper hand hygiene practices: wash hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available. Wash and sanitize hands:

  • at the beginning and at the end of each shift
  • before and after work breaks
  • after blowing nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • before putting on, touching or after removing non-medical masks and personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • before and after eating or drinking or preparing food
  • after using the washroom
  • before and after contact with others
  • after touching shared surfaces and items
  • after handling garbage or soiled laundry

Staff should change out of work clothes before going home. Clothes, uniforms, aprons, etc. should be laundered as soon as possible after every shift.

Cleaning and Disinfection

Viruses can remain on objects for a few hours to days depending on the type of surface and environmental conditions.

Develop a cleaning schedule and follow your standard operating procedures for cleaning and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces (door handles, light switches, chairs, etc.) and equipment.

Clean and disinfect common areas and equipment between users. If using barriers, clean and disinfect both sides of the barrier frequently throughout the day.

Make sure washrooms are cleaned and disinfected frequently and stocked with soap and paper towels.

Train staff on cleaning and disinfecting procedures including applicable workplace hazardous materials information system (WHMIS) legislation, and provide adequate supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Use approved hard-surface disinfectants that have a Drug Identification Number (DIN). This number means that it has been approved for use in Canada.

Read and follow manufacturer’s instructions for safe use of cleaning and disinfection products (e.g., wear gloves, use in well-ventilated area, allow enough contact time for disinfectant to kill germs based on the product being used).

Used cleaning cloths, towels, garments, and uniforms must be properly handled to prevent contamination, and laundered after every use.

Consider using gloves when handling laundry. Do not shake the laundry when sorting. Use detergent and make sure the laundry is completely dry before using. Clean and disinfect hampers and bins used for storing laundry.

Replace garbage bins with no-touch receptacles or remove lids that require contact to open. Line garbage cans for safe and convenient disposal of contaminated items, such as used PPE, tissues, and cleaning materials.

Dispose of garbage at least daily and follow up with hand hygiene.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Continue to use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for existing occupational health and safety hazards and emergencies as directed by applicable laws and your employer.

Additional PPE including eye protection (i.e., goggles or face shield that fully covers the front and sides of the face) and disposable gloves may be required when cleaning and disinfecting. Consult the manufacturer’s safe-use and handling instructions or the hazardous product’s safety data sheet (SDS) for recommended PPE.

Workers may also opt for eye protection (such as face shields) when in close physical contact with others. Stay informed as guidance is evolving regarding the use of face shields. They are not a suitable replacement for face masks but can provide eye protection.

Ensure adequate PPE is provided for employees who interact with the public. For example, an N95 respirator, a face shield, disposal gloves and a gown should be worn when in direct contact with another person (e.g., providing emergency medical attention).

PPE must be put on (donned) and removed (doffed) appropriately, performing hand hygiene before, during and after removing pieces of equipment. A reference to putting on and removing PPE can be found here.

Develop procedures and train staff on the selection, use, wearing, removal, disposal, cleaning, maintenance, and storage of PPE. Improper use of PPE can increase the risk of infection.

PPE should not be shared unless recommended by manufacturer. Clean and disinfect PPE that is shared between users.

Clean hands before putting on PPE and after removing PPE.

Non-Medical Masks

Non-medical masks might help to block respiratory droplets, but they are not considered personal protective equipment. Follow the recommendations for the use of masks including non-medical masks as issued by your public health authority.

  • When wearing non-medical masks, ensure they are well-constructed and well-fitting. Masks should be worn properly, fully covering the nose, mouth, and chin without gaps. Encourage people not to touch their face or mask with unwashed hands.
  • Children under the age of 2 should not wear masks. Between the ages of 2 and 5, children may be able to wear a mask if supervised. This will depend on their ability to tolerate it, as well as put it on and take it off.
  • Children older than 5 should wear a mask in situations or settings where they're recommended. A child’s ability to properly use and care for their mask is impacted by factors such as age, maturity, and physical or cognitive ability.
  • Masks should not be worn by anyone who is unable to remove the mask without assistance (e.g., due to their age, ability, or developmental status).
  • Be aware that non-medical masks have limitations, and improper mask use and disposal can increase the risk of infection.
  • Change your mask if it becomes wet or soiled. For example, you may wish to bring a second mask, and store in a clean paper bag, envelope, or container that does not trap moisture. Store reusable soiled masks in a separate bag or container. Do not touch the outside of the mask while removing it and wash your hands when you are finished.
  • Do not allow the mask to be a hazard to other activities, such as getting caught on moving machinery or flammability from open sparks or flames.
  • For some people, not being able to see another person’s face and mouth clearly may cause difficulties (e.g., young children, people who are deaf or hard of hearing). Consider using a transparent mask in those situations.

It is important that mental health resources and support are provided to all workers, including access to an employee assistance program, if available.

For further information on COVID-19, refer to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Note that this guidance is just some of the adjustments organizations can make during a pandemic. Adapt this list by adding your own good practices and policies to meet your organization’s specific needs.

Disclaimer: As public and occupational health and safety information is changing rapidly, local public health authorities should be consulted for specific, regional guidance. This information is not intended to replace medical advice or legislated health and safety obligations. Although every effort is made to ensure the accuracy, currency and completeness of the information, CCOHS does not guarantee, warrant, represent or undertake that the information provided is correct, accurate or current. CCOHS is not liable for any loss, claim, or demand arising directly or indirectly from any use or reliance upon the information.

Document last updated May 11, 2021