Waterloo Region’s vaccination rates continue to edge up – reaching about 84 per cent fully inoculated – but a range of public spaces are now subject to the province’s vaccine passport program, which is experiencing some growing pains.
In effect since September 22, the certification protocol requires the likes of theatres, gyms and restaurants to ask each patron for proof of complete inoculation. That’s caused some frustration in cases of, say, unvaccinated parents unable to attend their children’s hockey games.
“It’s a regulation that’s come from the province of Ontario, that every recreation facility in Ontario has to abide by,” said Jennifer Horndl, manager of recreation for the Woolwich Township. “Like everything else, opinions are split on whether it’s the right thing to do or not and unfortunately as a township we have no recourse but to abide by it.”
By law, anyone who’s eligible for a vaccine must be fully vaccinated – and show proof – to enter certain facilities. That applies to places such as the Woolwich Memorial Centre and Wellesley arena, as anyone accessing areas of facilities used for sport and recreational fitness must show proof of full vaccination, though there are exceptions for children under the age of 12 and those who’ve received a medical exemption, for instance.
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“The alternative would be to close down our recreation facilities again, and no one wants to see that happen. We understand that some people are being really inconvenienced by it, but for us the children are still going to be allowed to participate in hockey and swimming and other areas of sport. So, it’s one way that we can all do it and make sure that people are still safe entering our facilities,” said Horndl.
“Our staff are being trained on all of the regulations, we have QR codes that people can use to do pre-screening and contact tracing. We are using a security firm to help us with the vaccine checking so people have to provide proof of their vaccine plus government issued ID,” said Horndl. “We really are asking for people’s patience as we work through it.”
The use of contract security firms has become common in municipalities given that the time demand would exceed normal staffing resources. At Wellesley council the week, recreation director Danny Roth noted the process is time-consuming, and every visitor must be checked each time they return – there is no blanket screening process.
There are also staffing shortages with which to contend, an issue for the recreation departments in both Woolwich and Wellesley.
“We are really happy that we are allowed to be open. I know it’s going to present some challenges, but our staff are happy to be back at work, happy to be providing service to our customers and residents,” said Horndl.
“We’re at a 50 per cent capacity limit for the pool, and we are restricting lane swim capacities as well. We have to maintain a two-metre distance in the dressing rooms and change rooms, so we’re just people are asked to pre-register. We’re running programs on the hour so that we can get more people through.”
Such venues have not been associated with any COVID-19 outbreaks, suggested provincial chief medical officer of health Kieran Moore in a statement September 24.
“At present they appear to be safe. I think they’re safer with the vaccine certification process now and masking and hygiene and screening, so all these precautions are working for us in Ontario. These venues I do believe are safe, we just want to make sure they remain that way,” he said.
“We’re very much concerned about washrooms and any other setting where the distancing is decreased in these venues. We do want a staged, and phased and reasonable approach and given what we’ve gone through over the last year and a half, and given that hockey seasons are starting, it was fair and reasonable to start with those groups and ensure they can get back into our communities across Ontario
“We will continue to address the other venues that were holding back like restaurants, gyms and reassess over the coming weeks.”