Municipalities throughout the region were left scrambling last week to conjure up plans in the wake of the provincial government’s Sept. 15 declaration of a state of public health emergency amid the COVID-19 pandemic's fourth wave that has pushed the health-care system to its limits.
Town of Olds
Effective Monday, Olds implemented the Alberta government’s Restriction Exemption Program at the Olds Aquatic Centre and the Sportsplex, the municipality announced in a statement.
The decision to opt to proceed with the program was not made easily and “with a lot of consideration from all angles,” a portion of the statement reads.
“We know this is a divisive topic. We understand not everyone will agree. We thank you in advance for your patience and your kindness to our staff who have not chosen to implement these restrictions, but who are asked to help implement them.”
As per the temporary regulations outlined in the program, adults aged 18 or over who are participating in sport, fitness, recreation and performance activities at the facilities must provide either proof of at least one dose of a vaccination, a negative test result from a COVID-19 test completed within the past 72 hours, or proof of medical exemption.
However, spectators will not be required to present any documentation, as the municipality will adhere to Alberta Health Services’ business capacity and operating restrictions of one-third of the buildings’ fire code capacity, being of a single household or two close contacts for those who live alone, mandatory masking and physical distancing of two metres.
Didsbury, Carstairs outline plans
Nicole Aasen, Didsbury’s director of community services, says the municipality will as per council’s direction adhere to provincial regulations regarding masking, capacity and distancing at the Didsbury Memorial Complex, which includes the town’s ice rinks and swimming pool.
Minor sports are able to continue at the complex with games and practices under the updated conditions, she said, expressing uncertainty regarding users aged 18 or over.
“We are waiting to hear some direction from their (respective) associations,” she said.
Those groups include the Heritage Junior B Hockey League, which includes the Mountain View Colts.
Meanwhile, using the vaccine exemption program for pool programs including seniors' fitness classes is under consideration, she said.
There are no restrictions at the outdoor skatepark, but masking is encouraged, she said.
Carl McDonnell, chief administrative officer of the Town of Carstairs, said the town will keep the Carstairs Memorial Complex open to games and practices with masking, distancing and capacity limits in place. The town will be seeking further information from the province regarding the vaccine exemption program, he said, adding logistics are still being determined.
Town of Innisfail
Todd Becker, Innisfail’s chief administrative officer, said they were still trying to navigate through the long list of restrictions, noting more detail and clarity were needed to fully understand the guidelines for town’s recreation facilities.
“We are confused as well,” said Becker, adding staff was satisfied that youth activities at the Innisfail Aquatic Centre and the Arena are permitted to continue within the new guidelines. “However, there are restrictions in place for adults. We are working on that piece.”
Becker said as staff are waiting for answers on mandated restrictions, they also need to know how to manage and enforce proof of vaccination or negative COVID tests.
“What mechanisms do we have for those people who are coming into our facilities?” he said. “Do we have to allocate staff to do monitoring? What is the expectation of government with these public facilities, and how do we best manage those expectations and restrictions?”
Regarding enforcement, Becker said all that was known for sure when he spoke with The Albertan was that only public health inspectors and RCMP had authority, while the town had not yet received a ministerial order to apply enforcement by its peace officers. He said administration hoped to receive answers from the province early this week.
“We want to make sure we are allowing our patrons within our facilities, but we need to understand what the government is expecting of us.”
While answers are still being sought for the town’s recreation facilities, there is a plan in place for the Innisfail Public Library.
Tara Downs, library manager, said on Sept. 17 the library will remain open at one-third fire code capacity under mandatory masking and physical distancing protocols.
She said only families can attend together. Libraries are not eligible to participate in the province’s Restrictions Exemption Program, meaning the library cannot for the time being offer in-person, in-library programming.
Additionally, she said these programs will either be temporarily cancelled, delivered virtually, or be kit-based and offered by curbside pick-up.
— with files from Dan Singleton and Johnnie Bachusky