WESTLOCK – For the third time since the Sept. 15 provincial state of public health emergency declaration that included the unveiling of the Restrictions Exemption Program (REP), the Town of Westlock is changing the rules for entry into the Rotary Spirit Centre and Westlock Aquatic Centre, which remains closed until Oct. 12 for maintenance.
Starting tomorrow, Tuesday, Oct. 5, all adults — athletes, spectators, parents and coaches — and all youth not participating in sport entering either building will need to provide proof of at least partial vaccination, a privately-paid negative PCR, or rapid test within 72 hours of service (tests from AHS or Alberta Precision Laboratories are not allowed), or an original vaccine medical exemption letter — proof of full vaccination will be required after Oct. 25.
Meanwhile, all youth ages 12-17 taking part in sport, recreation or performance activities are not required to have proof of vaccination. All children under 12 are exempt as they are not currently eligible for vaccination. Indoor masking and physical distancing is still required at all town-run facilities.
Following the town’s Oct. 4 announcement, CAO Simone Wiley said that they were called by local AHS public health inspector Lu Wang who had questions on how REP was being run at the RSC. After a walk-through of the facility, Wang, Wiley and town staff met and discussed AHS’ concerns. Later that same week the province sent further information on REP to all municipalities which Wiley said, “Provided some very pointed clarity for us.”
“Lu notified us that we had to make some changes to actually meet the Restrictions Exemption Program guidelines,” Wiley said. “In speaking with her we said that it would take a few days, there are a lot of moving pieces and we needed to let user groups know, get public communications out and make sure all of council was aware.”
The town’s COVID recovery taskforce, which includes admin and council reps, also convened to discuss the upped restrictions and specifically whether they would continue with REP — if the town would have chosen not to participate, capacity would have been capped at one third and there would have been additional restrictions placed on adult group rec users. The town will not be hiring extra staff to enforce the program and users now entering either facility will be guided to the front desk to show documentation before being allowed inside.
“Definitely there was discussion to shut down to one-third capacity, but what that would have meant was no group adult sport. And where the conversation really went to was that the province put this program in place to encourage people to get vaccinated — that’s the intent of it,” said Wiley. “So if the Town of Westlock believes in that intent, then we’re participating in the program and that’s what it came down to.”
Wiley said public feedback regarding the rule changes has been mixed, with supporters and detractors. She said as far she’s aware REP hasn’t impacted any bookings at either facility.
According to vaccination stats from the province dated Oct. 4, only 46.3 per cent of youth ages 12-19 are fully vaccinated, while roughly half, 49.9 per cent, of residents ages 20-39 are double vaxxed. Meanwhile, 59.9 per cent of Westlock youth ages 12-19 have one dose of vaccine, while 65.3 per cent of residents ages 20-39 have one shot.
Overall, 75.5 per cent of all Westlock-area residents ages 12 and up have one dose of vaccination and only 65.3 per cent are fully vaccinated.
“We’ve heard from both sides definitely,” Wiley concluded.