Lakeland – Over the last couple of weeks visitors at Lakeland arenas may have noticed new and larger signs appear informing guests that they are prohibited from eating or drinking in the facilities.
This is because many local arenas are not implementing the province’s Restriction Exemption Program (REP), but instead are following the Chief Officer of Health (CMOH) Order 44-2021.
Facilities choosing to operate under health policy 44 are not required to check for proof of vaccination, however, they are prohibited from allowing patrons to eat or drink on the premise, or sit within two metres of individuals not in their cohort. Masking measures remain in place with some exceptions.
Recently, the Town of St. Paul was contacted by Alberta Health Services (AHS) informing them of a complaint that was received stating spectators had been eating inside the Clancy Richard and CAP arenas, according to Steven Jeffery, the Town’s CAO.
“A reminder was provided to us that if our facilities are not following the REP guidelines than any indoor consumption of food is prohibited,” said Jeffery, adding that the concessions at both arenas will remain open with the understanding that anyone purchasing food must proceed outside to eat before re-entering the building.
“Spectators purchasing the food from the concessions in the CAP arena and Clancy Arena can expect to receive their order in a take-out bag to proceed outdoors with,” he said. “At this point, we are unaware of any exceptions for this rule and understand that it applies to everyone inside the building.”
Similar measures are in affect at the Bonnyville and District Centennial Centre (C2).
The C2’s General Manger Les Parsons told Lakeland This Week, the C2 only operated under the REP program for a week at the end of September.
“Right now, the building is following what is called public health order number 44, which is operating under restrictions including one third capacity, but then we do have the VIP Lounge set up as a REP area where people can eat and drink in the lounge.”
People wanting to enter the Nova VIP Lounge are required to show either proof of vaccination, a medical exemption, or a negative COVID-19 test.
Although, Parsons points out that organizers hosting private events held at the C2, such as the Festival of Trees and the Craft Show had the choice of whether or not they wanted to implement the REP program.
“All these discussions have been to consider the health of the people in our region. Health and safety are our number one priority, everything else falls in after that,” Parsons said. “It was a long process of weighing the pros and cons of going REP or non-REP.”
In the end, the C2’s administration decided they would do a blend of having a non-REP facility while having some REP events.
“It's a reflection of the demographics in the region and people's choice to support masking or vaccinations and those kinds of things... We didn't have anybody breathing down our neck and telling us what to do, we just thought we would try to do this blended approach.”
At the end of September, vaccination rates across the Lakeland area remained around 50 per cent in the majority of jurisdictions.
“It was pretty well split in the community where people were for or against the REP. More and more people have been vaccinated since then,” he added.
Cost and effect
Parsons also noted that by choosing not to implement the REP program, the Centre is sacrificing food and beverage services at the C2 Cafe, as well as other services that can no longer be offered.
“We can't have any adult drop-in sports at all while following public health order number 44. If you implement either one of them, the reality is there are consequences and costs,” he said. “We're just trying to meet the needs of the greatest number of people in our region – that was our intention.”
Unlike other arenas that have private businesses operating their concessions, the C2 Cafe is operated by the Centre and the facility is able to absorb the financial loss from closing the eatery. However, the café’s cooks and servers are seeing their shifts and hours drastically reduced, said Parsons.
“It's an ongoing discussion. I've talked to the people in St. Paul and Cold Lake and Lac La Biche asking how they're doing it. It’s a provincial issue and it's also a regional issue and a local issue,” he said.
“We are trying our best to abide by whatever Alberta Health Services wants to do. It’s a balancing act is what it is, and it's not easy because you've got people who will be dissatisfied from both sides.”
Even with clearly visible signage, Parson acknowledges that some people continue to walk past the signs drinking coffees brought in from outside the arena.
“We are not going to escalate into a confrontation and conflict, but are doing the best we can to politely inform and educate people and hopefully they will respect the rules that we're operating with right now,” he added.
With each sporting complex having the autonomy to choose which of the provincially approved health measure they will implement, it is important for spectators to know the rules of the facility they visit.
Junior A Pontiacs to implement REP
On Dec. 6, the Jr. A Pontiacs announced that they will be implementing the REP program for all of the teams remaining 2021-22 season home games.
The Pontiacs started the season by adhering to REP and checking for proof of vaccination before spectators entered the RJ Lalonde Arena. The organization discontinued the program shortly there after, opting instead to adhere to one third capacity and to prohibit any eating or drinking within the facility.
After discussion surrounding patrons game day experience, the Pontiacs Board of Directors have made the decision implement REP in efforts to address the constraints faced by attendees, according to a statement released by the organization.
"The Bonnyville Pontiacs have not made this decision lightly and we appreciate your patience as we’ve navigated the best way to ensure the sustainability of the franchise moving forward," read the statement from the Bonnyville AJHL organization.
Starting Dec. 11, people ages 12 and older must provide proof of vaccination at least 14 days from the second dose of a vaccine to enter the RJ Lalonde Arena on a game day. People aged 12 and older can show proof of a negative COVID test result within three days.
The Pontiacs organization notes that Alberta vaccine records with QR Codes (paper or digital) are now the only valid Alberta-issued proof of vaccination accepted by operators participating in REP.