New exemption program opens MRU, its businesses
By Katia Maria Gallardo, Contributor
“Those two days were certainly a wake up call that COVID is not behind us.”
This is what Alex MacDonald, co-owner of Mount Royal University’s (MRU) optical clinic Old Street Optometry said when asked about the sudden closing of campus last Sept. 16 and 17 due to the public health emergency announcement from the government of Alberta. But with the introduction of the new Restrictions Exemption Program (REP), the university and the clinic are now open to the campus body once again.
This exemption program will allow businesses, events, and recreational centers that choose to opt into the program, to allow fully vaccinated patrons to enter and be held accountable for limited restrictions such as masking. Vaccine-eligible patrons will have to show their proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to enter the specified business or event.
MacDonald expressed worry that in-person classes will be cancelled yet again. But through MRU being part of the REP, Old Street Optometry is now open again for all kinds of eye treatment services.
“Because we’re operating on the campus, which is part of the Restrictions Exemption Program, we are essentially assured that everybody who comes to us is going to be fully vaccinated even if we aren’t required to check for that.” MacDonald continued.
As a health service business, the optical clinic was not eligible to be part of the program.
Other types of businesses such as hotels, K-12 schools and personal and wellness services also cannot benefit from the exemptions of REP.
Old Street Optometry is considered a health and wellness service and therefore cannot opt-into the program. However, since the optical clinic is in the university and the university is mandating the REP, the optical clinic can still operate, provided that they check proof of vaccination records from people outside the campus community.
“If we were in the same category as restaurants, we absolutely would’ve opted in,” MacDonald continued. He said generally, businesses in Calgary seem to be in support of a program to quickly verify vaccine status so that they don’t contribute to the spread of the virus.
MacDonald is also glad on a personal level. He and his partner, Dr. Lory Singh, one of the optometrists of the clinic, have a daughter at home who’s more susceptible than others to the virus.
Like the university, MacDonald agrees that in-person learning is important to maintain. With that being said, MacDonald asserts that in-person classes may not have been possible without the exemption program.
“The alternative to the restrictions program… I think it probably would’ve been a closure. Anything that will avoid that type of result is extremely helpful for our business.” MacDonald said.
Old Street Optometry, which is located in the basement of Wyckham house, is one of the businesses operating inside the university that struggled when classes shifted online for more than a year.
Dental Choice Mount Royal and the Wyckham Pharmacy also had to adjust to the challenge of students going online last year. But like the optical clinic, they also now benefit from the university being in the new exemption program.
“It was certainly slow at that time, but we were fortunate that a number of people found us,” MacDonald said about the state of their business last year.
Understanding the Restriction Exemption Program
Last Sept. 15, Premier Jason Kenney announced that Alberta is in a state of a public health emergency. In his statement, he went so far as to say that the province may run out of intensive care beds within 10 days if the upward trend of COVID-19 cases continues. As of Sept. 17, there were over 5300 cases within Calgary.
Kenney outlined a variety of new restrictions that encompassed recreation, restaurants, retail, weddings and funerals. The province will also be introducing a proof-of-vaccination program that will exempt certain businesses to some of the restrictions depending on what kinds of businesses they are.
However, REP would not apply to children under 12, staff of the businesses participating in the program or businesses that need to be accessed for daily living.
For some Calgarians, these restrictions have come too late. Political science professor Duane Bratt of MRU’s department of Economics, Justice, and Policy Studies, who has been outspoken about the government’s lack of responsibility, had this to say about the situation:
“We lost valuable time waiting to impose a vaccine mandate. How many people died or were hospitalized? Why did the gov’t wait to do what was right?” Dr. Bratt said in a tweet.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi seemed to share the same sentiment. When he was asked for his views on the new mandates from the provincial government, he said he had mixed feelings.
“I don’t know how to feel… but I can’t shake the feeling that it didn’t have to be this way.” Nenshi said. “… this government spun itself in circles, tried so hard to thread the needle that they missed the sewing machine entirely,” he added.