After several months without any paying gigs to speak of, local musicians were thrilled by the news circulating on social media earlier this week.
Word was they had been cleared by health officials to perform outdoors at local establishments to entertain real, live guests.
Alas, after months of performing online for free for charitable causes during the pandemic, the singing microphones will stay shut off for now as the information about patio music was unclear — unless they are willing to perform instrumental music only.
A representative from the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit had erroneously given the thumbs up to live patio music in response to an inquiry from Matt Ouellette, a member of the local hospitality industry. What was not made clear in the exchange was the live patio music could not include singing or dancing.
The Health Unit clarified today, "Live instrumental music is permitted on outdoor restaurant and bar patios, provided musicians and patrons practice physical distancing protocols or if applicable, social circle recommendations."
"It was an honest mistake," says musician Gary Davison. "At first, when I saw a copy of Matt's email, I was happy because musicians want to play and that was good news. Two days later, we hear from the same office and from [Medical Officer of Health] Dr. Chirico that there was no live music."
Once the error was realized, the Health Unit responded, citing Ontario Regulation 263/20 of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, which clearly states, "No dancing or singing may be permitted in the outdoor dining areas."
The Health Unit explains "respiratory droplets and aerosols generated during singing or loud speech may travel further than two metres. When dancing you may be more likely to breach personal space — coming closer than two metres to someone outside your social circle, and if you are singing while dancing the respiratory droplets and aerosols generated may travel further than two metres. Additionally, lowering the volume of live music is encouraged, as patrons may be more likely to breach personal space when leaning in to talk over loud music."
The COVID-19 Health Unit Response Team also advises, "We do not have the capacity to monitor every person and business in our community to ensure everyone is following the COVID-19 safety guidelines. you can call the North Bay Police Service non-emergency line at 705-472-1234 to report your concerns."
Ouellette, says he reached out for his "own knowledge and mostly so I could inform local musicians who are frustrated about it because some places have already been allowing live music."
Davison says he does not want to speak for all musicians but says those he knows well were simply looking for some clarity on the matter and will abide by any health regulations in place.
"Everybody knows now there is no music allowed on outdoor patios, until further notice," adds Davison. "It's more a sense of disappointment, than anything."
The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care maintains banning singing is based on science as the physical motions involved can lead to easier transmission of the virus. The provincial measures also prevent singing in child-care operations and place of worship.
"I can see the confusion. Somebody in the Health Unit made an error but with this pandemic, you learn as you go along. There's going to be hiccups and mistakes," observes Davison.
Despite the false hope, Davison knows North Bay's talented patio performers will be in-tune and ready to play with any changes from the government allowing them to get back to work — and doing what they love most.
"Musicians are fine people, all artists are," he says. "The pay isn't very good. They do it because they love it, they love entertaining people and making people happy."