Sparwood Mayor David Wilks has pushed back on ‘fear mongering’ and any talk that a more traditional Christmas could be at risk in 2020 as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic, expressing confidence the communities of the Elk Valley could lead by example.
“I don’t follow the fear mongering of the federal government or anyone else that says we’re going to cancel Christmas. I’m sorry but Santa Claus is coming on the 25th and he’s going to provide children with what they normally expect to get, and we can’t ruin that. That’s not on the cards at all as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
With new provincial public health orders snapping in to place last week, municipal governments have been on the front line of quickly interpreting, and adapting to the new rules in place.
In reflecting on the new orders, Wilks said that for the District of Sparwood, the challenge over the last few days has been figuring out what can and can’t go ahead at municipal recreational facilities.
“It’s a challenge for municipalities to try and read between the lines with the provincial government in what they’re trying to enact,” he said, explaining that it took some time to establish what spaces could be used for what, such as the difference between private rentals for families, or for coaching sessions.
Wilks said that he believed the community in Sparwood had taken the challenges of 2020 in its stride, and that for those that chose not to wear masks as mandated by the provincial government, “it is what it is.”
“If some people believe this is all a hoax or whatever it is, you’re not going to change their minds and so be it,” he said.
“This is real, it’s killing a lot of people, and until we get a vaccine and even after we get a vaccine this is still going to continue to be a problem.”
He expressed doubt that anyone not keen on wearing masks would refuse to wear one in their own place of employment, using local major employer Teck as an example.
“I (challenge) anyone who doesn’t want to wear a mask who works at Teck…the next time they go to work, stand in line to get on a bus and not wear a mask… (they know) exactly what’s going to happen. They’re going to wear their masks.”
On talk of potentially enforced limited travel between provinces to limit the spread of the disease, Wilks said that wasn’t going to fly, saying that as a border town, “it would be a nightmare” to enforce, instead encouraging personal responsibility.
“We’re a free and democratic society, and I just lay it back on the individual. If you’re not feeling well, stay at home. If there’s no need for you to come here except for the fact that you want to come over and have a coffee – could you have a coffee maybe next week when we get better, clearer direction of where we’re going,” he said.
“The last thing I want to see is to have to shut down all our recreational facilities during Christmas. During the one time when all the kids are home from school, and there’s an opportunity for families to do something together in a fun environment.”
Until then, Wilks said he hoped that the provincial government and health authorities could improve their transparency on alerting the public to COVID-19 cases in their communities.
“We shouldn’t have to learn about a positive COVID-19 case in Fernie from the Vancouver Sun. That is terrible. And that’s what (local municipal governments) have been calling for all the time. We’re not out here to identify the people that have COVID-19, but we do want to know what exists in our general vicinity.”
Wilks’s message to those in the community over the next two weeks (and beyond) was simple. “Wear a mask – it won’t kill you. Social distance. Keep your bubbles tight,” adding that it was also important to reach out to the elderly to keep in touch.
“It’s tough for some people – it’s really tough on the elderly. Make sure you phone someone once in a while. I call my mom just about three to four times a week.”
“My guess is if the numbers don’t improve (by Dec. 8), you can probably guess where we’re going, and no one wants to go there. So let’s do our part, and show that in our part of the province we’re taking this seriously and we’re going to lead rather than follow.”