Prince George warming centre excludes the unvaccinated

The city has a low COVID-19 immunization rate compared to the rest of B.C.


By Tessa Bartholomeusz

Prince George city council has re-opened the CN Centre on Oct. 18 for a warming hub facility and public walking for the coming winter season. But because of a provincial health order and Northern Health having the lowest vaccination rates in B.C., only vaccine passport carriers can use the civic facility this year.

Participants will be required to provide proof of vaccination before entering the CN Centre concourse to walk. Last year anyone could use the CN Centre during the COVID-19 lockdown. New changes include pre-registering for a time to use the walkway to maintain social distancing.

City councillor Susan Scott said opening the CN Centre benefits everyone in the community. The facility is for the health and well-being of all community members during the long Prince George winters. It is the largest arena in Prince George and has a seating capacity of almost 6,000.

“Every year Prince George has committed itself to the safety of citizens by creating a place without ice and other issues for people to get out and walk,” Scott said, “from seniors to mums with strollers and everyone in between who need[s] a safe, warm place to walk.”

Seventy-nine per cent of Prince George residents have received both vaccinations while 86 per cent are partially vaccinated. Prince George’s rate of immunization is low compared to the provincial rate, as now 90.5 per cent of all eligible B.C. residents have received their first dose and 86.1 per cent have received their second dose.

An alternative warming centre

For the high number of unvaccinated residents in B.C., an alternative warming hub and walking facility is available. The Pine Centre mall is the city’s only continuous indoor mall that allows walking inside.

Pine Centre offers a year-round walking club, which people sign up for on its website to maintain social distancing and keep track of their step counting.

The mall’s website has a walking map, and steps can be calculated online. Walking the length of the mall is equivalent to 1.5 kilometres in steps.

“So, we do have quite a following of folks who like to come to the centre before hours,” said Jessica Brown, marketing manager of Pine Centre mall.

“We open the doors one hour early in the morning for the mall walkers to come and get their steps in a safe warm environment. Plus, we have 24-hour security,” Brown said.

Sandra Rendek, whose entire family is double vaccinated and is a pro-vaccination advocate for teachers at her granddaughter’s school, prefers the YMCA for exercise as her granddaughter likes to swim.

The YMCA Membership Centres in Prince George require proof of vaccination.

Rendek likes Pine Centre for a family outing as there is more to do such as shopping and eating at the food court.

“Yeah, there is everything and we can walk around the mall twice because it is quite large,” Rendek said.

Exclusion for the unvaccinated

Alan Wilkin, a Prince George resident and ex-helicopter logging rigger looking for work, would like to go to the CN Centre — but he is not vaccinated.

“I would like to check it out but because of the mandate you know, I’m kind of letting it go. I am just trying to say well that’s the way it is,” Wilkin said.

“I would like to go see a concert there next week, but I can’t because of the vaccine,” Wilkin said. “It’s unfortunate that I can’t use the CN Centre.”

Wilkin listed the bands on tour he was going to miss: The Headstones, Moist, The Tea Party, and Sloan, who played on Nov. 7. Wilkin’s friends are going so there is a mix of peer pressure and social isolation for his hesitancy about the vaccine.

Wilkin accepts the mandates and tries not to let them affect him.

“I’m just doing my own thing until I figure out what I need to do,” Wilkin said.

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