COCHRANE— Plans are in motion to safely begin reopening Town of Cochrane services and facilities.
Starting on June 1 Stage 1 of the Town of Cochrane Reopening Plan began and saw sports fields and the Visitor Information Centre reopened to the public, on Monday (June 7) the RancheHouse reopened to the public for limited services and next Monday (June 14) in-person council meetings will resume.
Stage 2 of the reopening will begin on June 21 and see the opening of the RancheHouse for in-person services.
Stage 3 is slated to begin in the fall and will see the Protective Services Centre and Operations Shop opened to the public when it is deemed safe.
The timing of these stages will be dependent on provincial health measures. Virtual services will also remain available at cochrane.ca.
Deputy director of the Cochrane Emergency Coordination Centre and fire chief Shawn Polley said the Town of Cochrane has been able to draw on the previous experience of public health easements when planning for the current reopenings.
He noted a major benefit this time around has been seeing a major portion of the population receive COVID-19 vaccines.
The vaccine rollout helps the Town work with the provinces plan to reopen because the health measures in place are complimented by the aggressive distribution of vaccines in Alberta.
“What we’re planning to see is we won’t see those closures coming this fall because we should have certainly more immunity built up,” Polley said.
He noted last summer the province and Cochrane saw a trend of dropping COVID-19 numbers, and he expects to see the same trend with the added benefit of mass vaccinations.
The Cochrane Emergency Coordination Centre remains focussed on the positive side and is hopeful to proceed forward with a science-based plan guided by information from the province and Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.
The Cochrane Reopening Plan is drawing inspiration from the Province of Alberta Open for Summer plan which began on May 28.
The three-stage Alberta Open for Summer plan is centred on vaccinations— Stage 1 began two weeks after 50 per cent of Albertans 12 years and older received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and hospitalizations fell below 800, Stage 2 began on Thursday (June 10) and is based on 60 per cent of the population receiving at least one dose of the vaccine and Stage 3 is anticipated to begin in late June or early July and requires 70 per cent of the province to be vaccinated.
Polley noted reopenings in the province are a positive opportunity, especially in light of the frustration expressed by some citizens with the repeated experience of changes to public health measures in the province including the opening and closing of services.
“For the Town, it’s great because we’re trying to balance Open for Summer and supporting all of our local businesses and all of our Town services,” Polley said. “We found the balance with what the province is recommending reasonable and fair and are trying our best to move forward.”
Polley added while it has been challenging to plan for reopenings, a silver lining has been the shift to virtual services when possible.
He expects one of the biggest impacts for Cochranites will be when indoor fitness and gyms are once again permitted, along with the ability to gather outside once again.
“There is going to be some great opportunities right around the corner,” Polley said.
He noted Cochrane Family and Community Support Services, the Family Resource Network and the Eco Centre have been offering limited services during the pandemic, and these sites will also see a further return to normal operations in the Town of Cochrane Reopening Plan.
Polley said Cochranites can all play a role in ensuring the reopening finds success by practicing health measures and recommendations. This can include washing or sanitizing hands, wearing masks for now and staying home when sick.
As the town moves forward with its economic and social recovery, Polley said, he is hoping to reach a demobilization stage where Town services can operate in a different capacity.
“That’s certainly going to be a big driver as we move ahead,” Polley said. “The light is getting brighter at the end of the tunnel because we have vaccinations and were moving toward a reduction of serious hospitalization of Albertans if they do get COVID-19.”
Town of Cochrane Economic Development manager Mike Korman said the reopenings are welcomed economic boost for local businesses.
“I think everybody is looking to get back to some sort of normality,” Korman said.
Having professional services and restaurants allowed to reopen is a good first step, he said, that will allow them to once again generate much-needed revenues.
The reopenings this time around are being met with a little more confidence in the belief the Town and province will be able to continue to move forward— This has been spurred by the increase of vaccinations in the population.
Vaccinations are providing stability to this set of reopenings, he said, and there is now the opportunity to continue opening businesses in a safe way that does not compromise the provincial health care system.
They have received critical information from the province regarding the steps needed to move forward with reopenings. This guidance is providing certainty and confidence that the businesses will be able to reopen and stay open.
Korman praised businesses for following health measures and is hopeful the resiliency they have shown during the pandemic translates to success moving forward.
He said the Economic Recovery Task Force remains committed to supporting local businesses during reopenings, and this includes promoting shop local initiatives, local businesses and promoting the Town as a visitor destination over the summer.
“Our message is, get out and support your local businesses,” Korman said.