'Be smart, be safe': Local officials urge caution ahead of Homecoming weekend
Officials in Waterloo are cautioning students and visitors against large, in-person gatherings ahead of Homecoming weekend.
In an open letter to students, Waterloo Mayor Dave Jaworsky said a great school experience in the area must be "balanced against being responsible and an overall good citizen."
"That’s never been more important than the last couple of years as we have all felt the sting of this pandemic – a serious health crisis that is far from over," his letter read in part. "We know you’re excited to finally be able to meet classmates and get to know our city, but we know that large gatherings are a proven hotspot for the spread of COVID-19, even with vaccination. We need to follow public health directions, so if you’re going to socialize and get together with friends during Homecoming, do it in small groups that follow the public health rules. Attend a small house party or alternatively, visit one of the fine establishments in Uptown Waterloo."
In his letter, Jaworsky said smaller, controlled settings will "help protect against COVID-19, as well as against violence and property damage."
"We don’t want to see anyone in our city hurt, whether it’s at an event, as a result of COVID-19, or elsewhere in the community because resources are tied up dealing with crowds," he said in the letter. "Enjoy Homecoming, be smart, stay safe, wear a mask and get vaccinated."
Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, the medical officer of health for the Waterloo Region, encouraged students to celebrate Homecoming weekend at home.
"Though COVID-19 has changed how we celebrate, there are many options to connect online," her letter said in part. "If you choose to celebrate in-person, reduce your risk by choosing to celebrate outdoors, in small groups with people you trust, or indoors with only your immediate household members."
She reminded residents that the Delta variant is the dominant strain in Waterloo Region and continues to circulate in the community.
"It is highly transmissible and will spread easily when given the opportunity. The risk of transmission increases when you are indoors (especially in spaces with poor ventilation) or in crowded places," her letter said. "The infectious period for COVID-19 can begin before you develop symptoms. This means you can unknowingly spread it to someone you have close contact with if you aren’t practicing public health measures like masking and/or physical distancing."
She also encouraged students to get vaccinated as soon as they are able to do so.
Earlier this month, Waterloo city council passed a noise bylaw in an attempt to prevent large parties over Homecoming weekend. The special bylaw means noise complaints can be enforced at any time of day during Homecoming.
"We're encouraging those that are celebrating homecoming to do it responsibly," said Waterloo regional police Chief Bryan Larkin.
He said there will be a large police presence in the neighbourhood "to ensure compliance not only with the Reopening Act of Ontario but with all provincial and federal legislation."
On Saturday afternoon, the Laurier Goldenhawks will host the Warriors for the first battle of Waterloo since 2019. A maximum of 900 fans will be allowed in the stands.
Officials at Wilfrid Laurier University said safety is the top priority for Homecoming weekend, adding they are working closely with police and city officials.
"We continue to discourage unsanctioned gatherings and are strongly encouraging our students to engage in safe and respectful behaviours both this weekend and every weekend," a spokesperson said in an email. "Leading up to Homecoming, students have received many safety reminders and messages to help keep safety top of mind and we will continue to communicate with them throughout the Homecoming period."