WESTLOCK - 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.
That motion, conceived by Coun. Victor Julyan who said he was “very concerned” with low vaccination rates in the area, then edited and brought to a vote by deputy reeve Brian Coleman who said they “have to send a message” received unanimous 6-0 consent following a 35-minute discussion by council at its Sept. 14 meeting.
“I’m very concerned and we all should be concerned about the situation in this province. It seems like we are in a province that is not under control and I don’t think there is anyone in charge. We have a lot of people in Westlock County who are not vaccinated. And we are in a position where people travel through our county from one end of Alberta to another and we live near a town that is exposed to that traffic,” said Julyan, who also stated he’s in favour of county staff having to be vaccinated.
“We’re a minor part of the government system, but we are people who have a voice and I think that the voice, our voice, of the community is respected. Unfortunately our (provincial) government doesn't seem to have a rudder and it doesn’t seem to have a sail.”
Coun. Dennis Primeau said he agreed with much of what Julyan said, but reminded him that COVID-19 measures need to be handled by powers higher up the political ladder.
“A lot of your ideas are great, but the only thing is some of this needs to be left in the hands of senior levels of government. I think every single councillor should be clear on their vaccination status and strongly recommend vaccinations and encourage the province to be progressive,” said Primeau, who noted he’s fully vaccinated, a proclamation the majority of councillors also made at different points during the debate. “The sooner we can get all this over with the better. The unvaccinated are the ones keeping this going. It’s going to be a long time before we get out of it if people don’t get vaccinated.”
Added Coun. Lou Hall, who also stated she’s fully vaccinated: “There hasn’t been a great increase in people in Westlock County getting vaccinated. At the beginning of July there were two people who had COVID. Now we have 55. It’s alarming to me that it’s going up and not going down. We as councillors and leaders in the community need to lead by example. I very much want this to be over and if there’s anything I can do to help, I’ll do it.”
And while discussion around the table went from mandating staff to be vaccinated, to petitioning the province to implement a vaccine passport (an idea made moot following the province’s Sept. 15 announcement) the only other motion, which also passed 6-0, will see the topic of social distancing at pharmacies added to the agenda of the Sept. 22 tri-council meeting between the county, Town of Westlock and Village of Clyde — the issue was also brought forward by Julyan.
“We’ve been doing so much with the tri-council, I think just sending a motion to town I don’t think is the best response,” said reeve Jared Stitsen. “I would like to go to the town, have a conversation with the town and then have a motion coming out of it. We’re trying to work together more and have a unified message coming out. I think it’s better to collaborate.”
“This is the best way for us to work on this as there’s been more and more cooperation between the three. We’ve shown in this meeting today that there is support for this,” added Julyan, who also stated he’s fully vaccinated.
Status of county office
It’ll be business as usual at the main Westlock County office, albeit under the new occupancy restrictions implemented following the Sept. 15 provincial state of public health emergency declaration.
CAO Kay Spiess said Monday morning that upon receiving some clarification from Alberta Health Services they decided to go forward with the one-third model, similar to what the town is doing at its main office, FCSS, the fire hall and public works building. The town is implementing the Restrictions Exemption Program (REP) for the Rotary Spirit Centre, pool and Community Assistance Bus.
“We’re going to continue what we’ve been doing before — masking, barriers, social distancing and no meetings in person,” said Spiess. “We’re still continuing to encourage people to get vaccinated of course and we have some information up on our website of where to do that.”
Spiess, who said they’re also in process of forming a COVID-recovery taskforce similar to the town, said staff will continue to be allowed to work from home providing their job description allows for it.
“We’ve been doing that all along. Most people are coming into the office though, so as long as they’re keeping their distance as we have all the barriers up and we’re sanitizing.”
Meanwhile, county council meetings will again be closed to the public and broadcast over Zoom — today, Tuesday, Sept. 21, the county has a governance and priorities meeting.
“We’re only allowed seven people in our council chambers, so it will be councillors and senior administration. The public will have to Zoom in as we don’t have the space.”