BONNYVILLE — Prior to Premier Jason Kenney’s announcement reintroducing indoor mask use in public spaces on Friday, the Bonnyville District and Centennial Centre (C2) had announced that starting on Sept. 1 staff would once again be covering their smiles with masks.
The C2’s additional measures did not extend to patrons, but that no longer matters as the province has stepped in to require proper masking be worn in all indoor public spaces and work places, where social distancing is not possible or barriers are not present.
An unprecedented jump in COVID-19 cases in the region had caused C2’s leadership team to discuss the renewed need for masks among staff before the new provincial rules took effect.
Employee feedback returned to Lester Parsons, the general manager of the C2, in late August showed staff was onboard with the increased measures based on the latest data.
“Our staff, they agreed with the rationale because there are quite a few COVID outbreaks in Bonnyville. I emailed it out to them all and they all just complied,” said Parsons. “For us, it was not a hard sale. If there were three cases in the Bonnyville region, like there was four weeks ago, this would have been a hard sell.”
As of Sept. 3, the MD of Bonnyville had 254 active cases of COVID-19 and took the spot of the province’s second highest rate of active infections per capita.
The previous decision to allow visitors the choice of whether or not to wear a mask was made to stay in line with Alberta Health Services, but beginning Saturday facility users will have to remember to bring their mask with them as they head into the centre.
“Our actions are just to help ensure the health and safety of ourselves, our coworkers, our guests and our families,” said Parsons. “We're just trying to minimize exposures,” he adds, highlighting that the facility is a gathering place for the community.
“The C2 is the hub in Bonnyville and we don't want to be known as the hub that just spread COVID all over the region. We want it to be a hub that builds community not causes problems for the community,” he said. “We've got people coming in from all walks of life, of all ages, from little children right through to adults and senior citizens. This is a community gathering place that exposes the rest of the community, to the rest of the community, from the farm and rural people in here playing hockey to the townspeople.”
As autumn begins to linger in the air, C2 gym memberships have reached nearly pre-COVID levels, and minor hockey has more people than ever registered for the winter sport, according to Parsons.
This means increased foot traffic at the centre. Parsons has noticed a natural social distancing between guests though. “People somehow, when they put a mask on, also stand further back.”
He adds, in general there hasn’t been much physical contact among community members using the facilities, but often sees guests “elbowing” rather than high-fiving.