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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Events are back at the Anaheim Convention Center.
For most of the past year, the Anaheim Convention Center has been used as a COVID patient facility, whether for testing or as a mass vaccination site.
But this weekend, the convention center hosted its first non-medical, non-COVID-related event since the coronavirus pandemic shut down the events industry in March of last year. Starpower Talent hosted a youth dance competition over the weekend. Another part of the convention center is still being used as a mass vaccination site.
Visit Anaheim President and CEO Jay Burress said it's a good sign of things slowly coming back to normal.
"The future looks brighter and brighter every day," Burress said. "This is a great sign that events are coming back."
The first live event comes more than a year after the Anaheim Convention Center, along with several convention centers statewide, were shuttered due to the state's effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. After a year of no live conventions and events, the Anaheim Convention Center is slated to host more than a dozen events and conventions in the coming months.
"A lot of them are smaller," Burress said. "They are following the new guidelines and protocols. But it's great to see some activity and people coming into Anaheim."
Before the pandemic, the Anaheim Convention Center hosted more than 200 events, conventions and conferences a year. The one million square foot convention center, the largest along the West Coast, is one of the city's economic engines, helping bring in tourists and business professionals to shop and stay at hotels in Anaheim.
Along with travel restrictions, the pandemic shut down the meeting and events industry, essentially shuttering business meetings, trade shows, and conventions statewide. As coronavirus cases and hospitalization trend downward and vaccinations rising, it wasn't until last week when the state lifted some of the restrictions regarding conventions and conferences.
In mid-April, the state updated their four-color coded Blueprint for a Safer Economy Plan, which monitors a county's coronavirus cases and sets restrictions on certain businesses.
Under the new guidelines, private events or meetings such as receptions or conferences can be held as long as organizers take measures to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus. A county's tier level determines capacity and if guests can provide proof that they are fully vaccinated or have a recent negative COVID-19 test.
In Orange County, under the orange tier, indoor gatherings can bring in as much as 150 people so long as all guests can provide a negative COVID-19 test or show full proof of vaccination. Outdoor meetings are limited to 100 people but can increase to 300 if guests can show proof of COVID-19 immunization and or a negative COVID-19 test, the state said.
The new Blueprint guidelines will only be in effect until mid-June. Gov. Gavin Newsom said he plans to reopen the state fully.
Burress said this would allow conventions to have a capacity of 5,000 people and more if guests are vaccinated or provide a negative test.
Burress said they've already booked one convention that plans to have more than 5,000 attendees.
With the new guidelines in place, Burress expects more events to come to the convention center.
"This is a milestone moment," Burres said. "It signals the start of the recovery."
But the convention center is not there yet.
"We're going to start with this first group, and then we build upon that," he said. "We're rebuilding and retaining what we can. The guidelines are the key. I want people and event organizers to know, California is back in the events business."