‘We are ready to go’: Alberta charities, businesses hoping for restrictions to be eased this week

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Many businesses and charities are anxiously waiting for the province to make an announcement on the fate of Step 3 of Alberta's reopening plans. Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports – Mar 21, 2021

Many businesses and charities are anxiously waiting for the province to make an announcement on the fate of Step 3 of Alberta’s reopening plans amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The province says any decisions on moving to Step 3 of the reopening will be made on March 22 at the earliest.

Cabinet members are expected to meet Monday to analyze recent trends.

Read more: Alberta COVID-19 committee will discuss Step 3 in coming days

Century Downs Racetrack and Casino north of Calgary has been shut down since mid-December. It was the same situation for Century Mile south of Edmonton, although the restaurants have been allowed to reopen.

“All our staff have been laid off in the province and that would’ve been pushing 800 staff members that we had to lay off just before Christmas,” said Paul Ryneveld, general manager of Century Downs Race Track and Casino.

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Ryneveld is hoping the horses can start running again at the end of March and the casino can reopen if the province gives the green light this week.

“We are very confident. We were able to manage with the protocols a very safe situation last year,” Ryneveld said.

“We don’t know of any cases that arose due to horse racing or the activity at our facilities, and there were no outbreaks. It was safe from the standpoint that we were taking every precaution possible to limit any potential spread of COVID.”

Century Downs Racetrack and Casino near Calgary. Global News

Step 3 would include easing restrictions for casinos, bingo halls, racing centres, movie theatres, museums, places of worship, adult team sports, youth sport and recreation activities, and indoor social gatherings.

There must be fewer than 300 hospitalizations related to COVID-19 in Alberta for the province to move to Step 3.

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Bingo Alberta represents four facilities in Calgary that provide revenue for charities and sports organizations.

“There’s no doubt that being shuttered now for a quarter of the year impacts the revenue that is earned by most of the charities,” said John Szumlas, CEO of Bingo Alberta.

“There’s no doubt the 21 commercial bingo halls that operate in the province are really critical for the fundraising for the 738 charities that are members of these facility operators. Unlike other provinces, and unlike other gaming opportunities, such as casinos and VLTs, the commercial bingo halls in the province of Alberta are owned and operated and managed by the charities themselves.”

Read more: Calgary minor sports organizations struggle to adapt to province’s new COVID-19 rules

Since Step 2 went into effect, youth sports have been allowed to have practices in groups of 10. The executive director of Calgary Minor Soccer Association is hoping the province will allow kids to scrimmage against fellow teammates and ultimately go back to team play for the outdoor season at the end of May.

“We are ready to go. We have a good track record of success, and we need that to be trusted, and we need to get going,” said Susan Cress, CMSA executive director.

“I think everybody in the soccer community and in the youth sporting community are looking forward to the next step in a really big way. I think minor sports in general have earned it. We are not seeing minor sports as a place of outbreak. What we have seen is parents really adhering to all of the protocols and kids adhering to the protocols with social distancing, masks and heaps of sanitization stations around the field.”

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But some doctors say now is not the time to ease restrictions.

“We know that the variants are increasing at a faster rate than cases are increasing, which means they are becoming more prevalent and they will overtake the old original variant very soon,” said Calgary ER physician Joe Vipond.

Read more: COVID-19: Alberta doctors warn against further easing of restrictions

The bottom line to Bingo Alberta is that volunteers, staff and patrons are safe.

“The commercial bingo halls will listen to Dr. Deena Hinshaw and the medical experts to let us know when it’s acceptable and safe for us to reopen… We don’t want to open and then close and open and then close,” said Szumlas.

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