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Surging COVID numbers sends Westlock town council back to online meetings only

Last Monday’s meeting had only three councillors and one staffer in council chambers
WES - town council IMG-9095
Town of Westlock council meetings will be held online only starting for the Jan. 24. Rising COVID-19 case numbers have prompted the change.

WESTLOCK – With COVID-19 cases spiking across the province and locally as well, the Town of Westlock is moving its council meetings back to online attendance only.

While the switch was formally announced by the municipality Jan. 12, council’s Jan. 10 meeting saw the vast majority of councillors and staff attend via Zoom — only mayor Ralph Leriger, councillors Laura Morie and Randy Wold and municipal clerk Annette Boissonnault were in chambers at the Heritage Building.

In a Jan. 12 release CAO Simone Wiley said, "the health and safety of our staff and residents at the forefront of our decisions” and moving the meetings back to online ensures minimizing “risks of exposure to the new variant and spreading that throughout the organization.” As of Jan. 14, the province says there are 100 active COVID-19 cases, for an active case rate of 737.7 per 100,000, within the borders of Westlock County.

“The concern with the new variant and the way in which it is rapidly transmissible was the impetus for changing to the online platform again,” said Wiley in a Jan. 11 interview in advance of a COVID recovery taskforce meeting the following day. “It didn’t go overly well with half in chambers and half on Zoom so we’ll go back to full Zoom for the next little while.”

Following the Wednesday taskforce meeting, the town issued a release noting the main office remains open to the public, although some staff will be working from home when operationally possible — the town also encourages residents to call ahead or make appointments when an in-person meeting is required.

Meanwhile the Rotary Spirit Centre and Westlock Aquatic Centre, which were discussed during the taskforce meeting, remain open and operating under the province’s restrictions exemption program.

"Keeping our recreation facilities open as a means of activity for our residents is important to us,” Wiley says in the release. “Navigating the pandemic will have lasting impacts on all of our lives and while we endeavour to follow the province's lead and provide essential services to our community, we need to continue living our lives. Our rec facilities provide that outlet and we are thankful to be able to offer that during these very long and difficult days."

Anyone looking to attend a council meeting virtually can find log-in details on the community calendar of the town’s website, while meeting reminders are posted to their social media channel — council’s next meeting is slated for Jan. 24 as the Jan. 17 committee of the whole meeting has been cancelled.

George Blais,

George Blais

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