July 7, 2021

Stampede in the era of COVID-19

UCalgary physician and vaccine advocate overseeing the safe return of a pared-down 2021 Calgary Stampede
Jia Hu
Jia Hu

Dr. Jia Hu, who arrived in Calgary in 2018, has recently been struck by the commitment, passion and love for an iconic piece of Calgary that he says seems to have been woven into the city’s fabric. With this year’s Calgary Stampede just days away, Hu, MD, a clinical assistant professor at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM), is working hard to ensure that the first Stampede since the COVID-19 pandemic began is executed with the health and safety of the public at top of mind.

“When we look at something like the Stampede, the vast majority of the activities are outdoors,” says Hu, who has worn many crucial hats throughout the pandemic and has managed hundreds of outbreaks and critical situations. “The one thing we do seem to see is that outdoor transmission is extremely rare.”

In addition to being a family physician, Hu is a medical officer of health, Calgary Zone, with Alberta Health Services; the primary care vaccine rollout lead at the Alberta Medical Association; and chair and co-founder of 19 To Zero, an Alberta-grown coalition that started out of the University of Calgary and works to understand public perceptions around COVID-19 behaviours and vaccination.

“COVID itself has caused a huge amount of harm and that’s why we’ve needed things like lockdowns. Alberta, more than any other province, has come the closest to challenging our ICUs (intensive care units),” he says.

However, lockdowns also pose their own unique challenges. A rise in mental-health issues, avoided health care and economic implications make it important to enable reopening when possible.

“I think that being able to reopen in a reasonable way is quite critical to people’s well-being, the economy and everything,” Hu says.

With that in mind, Hu has been collaborating with the Calgary Stampede to bring back the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” in a pared-down way with an emphasis on outdoor experiences that include the midway rides, the parade of unusual foods and classic treats, and the iconic rodeo and Grandstand Show.  

“We recognize that we are in a unique position to lead the way for the reopening of live events in Canada – and we do so following best practices, advice and safety protocols,” says Theresa Howland, BComm'99, vice-president of the Calgary Stampede. “Dr. Hu’s guidance has been instrumental in helping us to do this.”

Pre-purchased park admission, reduced capacity, and fewer vendors and attractions will allow fans of the show the ability to assess their personal risk level and not only contribute to the economic recovery, but reconnect and feel part of the community again.

“The Calgary Stampede is a community celebration focused on hope and optimism, and it is a reflection of the incredible resilience and strength of our community,” says Howland.

Each part of the event will have different approaches to safety protocols, based on the risk. Proof of vaccination will not be required to enter the grounds, but proof of vaccination or an onsite negative rapid test will be required for entry into Nashville North. 

Flexibility, an eye on the overall health of the community, and the ability to reassess and pivot as needed are central to Hu’s and the Calgary Stampede’s commitment to ensuring health and safety standards.

“And really, the way out, the one thing that we can do to help end this pandemic and help with reopening, is to increase vaccine rates,” says Hu. “It’s my job to keep things as safe as possible. I love Calgary and I love Alberta and I want us to be able to reopen safely. A successful Stampede will show the country that we can come out of COVID.”

The Calgary Stampede is scheduled to run from July 9-18.

Dr. Jia Hu is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences and a member of the O'Brien Institute for Public Health at the Cumming School of Medicine.

The 2021 Calgary Stampede returns July 9 to 18 – volunteers and employees are looking forward to welcoming you back for a safe celebration. As a proud partner of the Calgary Stampede, UCalgary will feature opportunities to get in the spirit throughout the week.