By Jaymie L. White
Special to Wreckhouse Press
SOUTHWEST COAST – On Wednesday, Feb. 16, the provincial government announced that COVID-19 restrictions across the province, including mask mandates, capacity limitations, proof of vaccination, and social distancing, would be removed as of Mar. 14.
Even though the restrictions were lifted less than a month ago, COVID-19 is still a very real concern, and a recent outbreak in the region serves as a reminder that the province is not yet out of the woods.
Numerous businesses and organizations over the past week have decided to close their doors temporarily and cancel upcoming events due to the increase in COVID cases in the area. Although this is no longer mandated by the province, the safety of community members remains a top priority.
Among the organizations choosing to err on the side of caution, the Royal Canadian Legion in Port Aux Basques announced on Mar. 30 via their Facebook Page that they would be closing their doors, including the Lower Deck, until last Monday, Apr. 4, due to the outbreak experienced the previous weekend during the Ladies B Dart Tournament.
Another organization, Sou’Wes Newfoundland Delta Waterfowl, on Apr. 3, announced their decision to cancel their planned dinner and auction which was set to take place on Apr. 29. Mark Lomond said the decision was made as a precaution due to the rising number of COVID cases in the community.
“We didn’t have to, but we made the decision to call it. There’s so many people in the area with COVID right now and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be any better in a few weeks when we had scheduled to have the dinner. I think it was a no-brainer. We don’t want to be responsible for anybody getting sick or helping spread any type of COVID strain that is going around currently.”
Cory LeRiche, also with Sou’Wes Newfoundland Delta Waterfowl, said that instead of fundraising at this time it seemed like the better decision was to hold off on their event for now. LeRiche said, even without the direction of the government, after two years of dealing with a pandemic they have an understanding about when to make this type of decision.
“We’ve gotten used to it. We’ve got a pretty good support base, so it isn’t hurting us too bad. We’re doing good.”
LeRiche said that the ice fishing derby that took place at the end of February was easier to move forward due to the fact that it took place outside.
“It was a really windy, cold day, and we still ended up with, I think, 93 people came out. A lot of people just wanted to get outdoors. It was an event that they could get to and participate in and still be able to keep social distancing easily. This event would be indoors, closer quarters, and with food everybody would have to have their masks off anyway to eat, so we just thought it was better to wait.”
Lomond said the group has been unable to have a live dinner and auction since the pandemic began and many are disappointed it isn’t moving ahead this year, but that COVID is something everyone is going to have to get used to living with for the foreseeable future.
“It seems that way right now, definitely. What that means for future events I do not know, and how we’re going to be as a society handling it in the future, but I’m sure we’re going to have to figure it out.”
The Codroy Valley Fire Department is also feeling the effects of the increased COVID cases in the region as well. They announced on Apr. 4 that the Fire Hall will continue to be closed for the remainder of the week due to the outbreak in the area. As a result, the magic shows scheduled for Apr. 7 and darts on Apr. 8, were cancelled.
Fire Chief Brian Osmond said it was a difficult decision to make, but the safety of community members remains most important.
“We were doing it because everybody is looking for something to do now, to get out, so we had an opportunity to get them out, but in the last two weeks, outbreaks have made it more difficult for us to open the hall.”
With increased numbers and a lack of guidance from the government, Osmond said it can make the situation a little harder to navigate.
“The province, to me, is not giving any guidance to help any organization out there to make the decision on their own. When we first started COVID, it didn’t take many numbers and we were down in lockdown, and numbers weren’t as high as they are now, and they had all kinds of guidance for us. Now that the restrictions are lifted and the numbers are higher, there are more deaths, and there’s no guidance.”
Port aux Basques Mayor Brian Button said that overall the effects of COVID-19 are still being felt throughout the region.
“Since the mask restrictions have been taken down, we have seen some businesses and organizations that have had to shut down or have had to limit their hours because they’ve had so many staff that have been off or exposed, having to close, which we weren’t experiencing through the whole pandemic of COVID over the last couple of years.”
Button said everyone is trying to get back to a new kind of normal and that, for the most part, people are taking the necessary steps to not spread COVID past their doorstep when they are exposed.
“What I would say to residents around here, knowing that it’s in our area, the things that we’ve done in the past to keep ourselves as safe as we could, like wearing our mask, keeping our hands sanitized and washed, those type of things, just continue on doing that. Take the precautions that you did to protect yourself because that’s the event in this. No one knows how this is going to react for them. We all hope if we get it, it’s no different than if we’ve got a cold. We hope that, but we never know how it will react with us. So just do what you’ve been doing for the past number of years and just protect yourselves. Think about yourself and your family members and what you can do to protect them.”