Home opener

Opening night of the Penticton Vees' 2019-20 season, which was cut short by the pandemic.

Sports fans will soon be able to return to some of their favourite local venues with thousands of like-minded people who’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Both the Penticton Vees and Penticton Speedway confirmed Tuesday that changes to regional health orders announced Monday will allow them to operate at 50% capacity.

That means Vees fans will have plenty more to cheer about when they welcome the club back onto the ice of the 5,000-seat South Okanagan Events Centre, which will play host to the visiting Vernon Vipers in a Sept. 24 exhibition game.

“We are fortunate to be based out of a facility like the SOEC, where we’ll be able to welcome so many of our fans back to the arena,” said Fred Harbinson, the Vees’ president, coach and general manager, in a press release.

“We can’t wait to see our fans in person cheering on our team once again this season.”

The same goes for Ingo Seibert, who became a part-owner of the Penticton Speedway earlier this year.

“We are able to significantly expand our attendance for the last three events. We are very happy to have some opportunity,” said Seibert in an email.

“The challenge for businesses of our nature is we lost our biggest three weekends” after restrictions announced Aug. 23 to stem the rising tide of COVID-19 cases in the Interior Health region limited attendance at outdoor events to 100 people and at indoor events to just 50.

With approximately 2.5 acres over which to spread out spectators, Seibert hopes to see upwards of 2,000 fans at the final three races of the season: Sept. 25, Oct. 2 and Oct. 3, plus a special Halloween event Oct. 30.

Health officials on Monday cited declining COVID-19 cases, increasing vaccination rates and the implementation of vaccine cards as central to their decision to allow larger gatherings.

Vaccine cards came into effect Monday, meaning people will need to show proof they’ve had at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine before attendings licensed restaurants, theatres, ticketed events, gyms and casinos.

As of Oct. 24, people will have to show they’ve been fully vaccinated with two doses if they wish to go into those same places.

While the cards aren’t required in places like grocery stores and fast-food restaurants that don’t offer table service, they are necessary to get into full-service establishments like the Barley Mill Brew Pub.

The pub, which is currently closed on Mondays due to a staffing shortage, was trying to walk a fine line between respecting customers’ personal choices and respecting health rules when it reopened Tuesday in the vaccine-card era.

Marketing manager Kori Iceton said in an email that staffers who feel comfortable with the idea are posted at the main entrance, where signage informs patrons to prepare to show their vaccine card and ID upon entry.

“In the event a guest does enter our doors without proof of vaccine and ID, our staff are instructed to hand them (a) yellow slip of paper and walk away. We do not want our staff to have to deal with any confrontation,” said Iceton.

The yellow paper bears a note emphasizing the Barley Mill is just following government orders and that 50 employees’ jobs are on the line. It also includes a mailing address for Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, for those who wish to complain.

“We hope after a week that most guests will know the procedures and we can focus on what we do best: offering delicious food and welcoming service for our guests,” added Iceton.