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Westlock County forms COVID-recovery taskforce

Group includes municipal staff and councillors

WESTLOCK – Westlock County has formed a COVID-recovery taskforce, a group that will deal with issues and provincial regulations surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

CAO Kay Spiess informed councillors of the taskforce formation at their Sept. 21 governance and priorities meeting, stating they’re taking a cue from the Town of Westlock which formed its own taskforce last year to deal with the ever-changing provincial guidelines.

Spiess, who will be one of the staff reps on the group, also meets weekly with the other Westlock-area CAOs where they discuss a variety of issues, ranging from COVID to economic development. Borne out of the COVID-19 pandemic, those weekly meetings between the CAOs of the Westlock area’s three municipalities were the region’s submission to the 20th-annual Minister’s Awards for Municipal Excellence.

“It’s joining governance and council’s concerns with COVID, as well as administration’s issues with COVID so we can come together with consistent messaging,” Spiess told council.

Reeve Jared Stitsen, who along with Coun. Lou Hall are the two councillors on the group, said it’s in their best interests to be on the same playing field as the town and village when it comes to restrictions.

The county is making a concerted effort of late in regard to COVID compliance — at their Sept. 14 meeting councillors unanimously passed a motion that stated for the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic, all Westlock County councillors, employees and volunteers will respect the province’s public health orders, including masking and social distancing, while encouraging and educating all employees and residents to be vaccinated.

“Really we mostly talked about the process and wanting to align with our partners, the town and village. With so many things changing and evolving, we want to make sure we don’t miss something (a restriction) they’ve caught, or vice versa,” said Stitsen Sept. 22, the day after the first taskforce meeting. “We want to be consistent. And certainly people from the county use the facilities in the town and vice versa. Anything we do, we want to try to be unified. We’re all the same people using the same buildings. Ultimately that will help everyone.”

It’s worthwhile noting that municipal politicians and staff are in the same boat as everyone else when it comes to the provincial COVID announcements — a follow-up Zoom meeting for reeves and mayors was held Sept. 17, two days after the provincial state of public health emergency declaration.

“And that was part of the talk during our taskforce meeting — before we do anything we need to wait until we know if there’s a second meeting scheduled because a lot of our decisions will be clearer after that second meeting,” said Stitsen. “So our group has to be somewhat flexible because these announcements always seem to come out at 3 p.m. on Fridays.”

George Blais,