The Restrictions Exemption Program was lifted as the clock struck midnight Feb. 9 following Premier Jason Kenney’s announcement to end the proof-of-vaccination requirement.
Mandates requiring students across the province to wear masks in schools or on school buses ended Feb. 14. This applies to early childhood services (ECS) to Grade 12.
“Schools are telling us that attendance is normal, or in some cases higher than it has been, and students seem happy with the change. Of course, although students are no longer required to wear a mask, if they still desire to do so they will be supported regardless of their choice,” said Vince Burke, the communications coordinator for Wolf Creek Public Schools.
Students at Chinooks Edge School Division are also enjoying the continued face-to-face learning, now with the added benefit of choice around wearing a mask, said school division superintendent Kurt Sacher.
“Everybody is just happy to have face-to-face learning, which they had before the mask restrictions were lifted,” said Sacher, adding, “Seeing the numbers going down, hospitalizations going down, people being healthier, it just means we are more likely to continue face-to-face learning and having our staff and kids healthy so that we can get back to what we are all about, which is learning in the classroom.”
Burke said other safety measures including increased sanitizing, cleaning, hand and respiratory hygiene practices will remain in place. He reminds anyone with symptoms of illness to remain home and follow the latest guidance on COVID-19 symptoms.
While the restrictions didn’t stop Sylvan Lake’s Stacia Dyck from taking her children for regular activities at the NexSource Centre, she says accessing those services is now easier.
“It didn’t change too much for us. The kids have been in sports the whole time. So, we were happy to kind of show our IDs when we needed to. But I did find that when we are here at 6:30 a.m. for hockey and things like that, just wrestling through bags to find my ID, make sure my phone was charged… was a little bit more hassle than it was worth. It felt kind of good and the kids also asked as we walked in like do we have to wear masks? What do we do now? So, it was definitely a little bit different than it has felt for a while,” said Dyck. “I think it will probably make our life go back to pretty normal,” she added.
Sylvan Lake resident Heather Jones said it felt good walking into the NexSource Centre without having to show the vaccine passport. “Hopefully we are not opening up too fast, that’s the only concern that I have but we have to get on with our lives,” said Jones, adding, “I think people would be really happy that it’s lifted, it’s a good thing for Sylvan Lake. I think the restaurants will pick up more, everything will because we had a lot of people that were not going out.”
The REP being discontinued is impactful as it caused great division in communities across our province, said Lodge 43 Restaurant co-owner Heather Jones.
“Restaurants in our town have followed and upheld all mandates imposed by AHS for two years and bore the brunt of the anger and frustrations of the patrons who were being singled out. We look forward to and are happy and relieved to be able to welcome back our community in its entirety,” said Jones.
The REP program being lifted was like a giant sigh of relief, said local businesswoman Kjeryn Dakin. She said they did everything in their power to keep up with the continuous requirements to pivot through the ups and downs of Covid.
Dakin, who is also on the Sylvan Lake town council owns Doe(s) Pizza, Bukz and Bukwildz.
“Ultimately, the first objective was to keep people safe. So we did everything we could to ensure safety of patrons and our staff. Unfortunately, the REP program did nothing but divide our community. I hope nothing more than to have the rep program gone forever,” said Dakin, adding, “So happy to have it gone.”