If there was good news locally in the COVID-19 saga last week it was the number of cases not going up. Slave Lake had three pretty much all week. Provincially the numbers kept climbing, at about 60 or 70 per day. And that included 13 in the North Zone. But as of last report, things were not getting worse in and around Slave Lake.
How it was going otherwise is another question. A lot of people are not working. Schools and daycares continue to be shut down. Restaurants are closed to everything but take-out service.
As for bigger employers, some don’t want to talk about how the virus scare is affecting their operations. Some do and one of those is Vanderwell Contractors. General Manager Ken Vanderwell said last week it was more or less business as usual at the Mitsue lumber mill. A few employees were off due to isolation decisions, but otherwise, the mill was running at full capacity with four shifts.
On the other hand, (there’s always one of those), much depends on lumber sales. They had been slowing for three straight weeks, Vanderwell said. If that trend continued, the mill would inevitably have to face the need to cut back on production. It has happened before, with shifts reduced in response to poor markets.
Early in the week West Fraser announced reductions in some of its operations, notably in lumber and at its Quesnel plywood plant. Then on March 26 it was announced the Slave Lake veneer mill would be suspended, “until at least April 6.” starting on Mar. 30. It also said pulp mill production might be affected “due to key technical resources not being available.”
Tolko remains open for business, is the message on that company’s website (again, not referring specifically to its Slave Lake operation). The company is taking “all reasonable steps,” it says, to reduce risk to employees and customers. No production curtailments are planned (or were at the time of posting) at this time.
Ken Vanderwell told The Leader thanks to the colder-than-usual month of March, the haul season was a success for his company. The yard is full and it is likely the other mills are in a similar position with regard to wood supply.
The big question at this point is whether the general economy will sustain a demand for wood products. If not, layoffs are likely.
On March 24, local governments in the Wabasca area teamed up to lower the boom on COVID.
They imposed a curfew and banned all non-essential traffic from the roads, threatening fines for violations.
“We have no cases,” said M.D. of Opportunity Reeve Marcel Auger in a video posted online. “And we want to keep it that way.”
On March 22, the Alberta government announced that a few licensed child care centres would reopen to provide child care for core service workers. All day cares in the province were closed on March 16. All others are to remain closed. Legacy Childcare in Slave Lake is not one of the daycares that have been asked to reopen by the province, says Legacy executive-director Abigail Rayne, on March 24. The facility remains closed.
As of March 22, the government hadn’t closed day homes, but had limited the number to six children, not including the operators’ children.
The province also was offering a one-time income support payment of $1,100. But the day it became available, the website crashed, due to too much activity.
Town of Slave Lake and M.D. of Lesser Slave River both have useful information on their websites. For example, the M.D.’s website has a set of links to sites for applying for various benefits. The town’s website has a list of businesses and organizations and their current status (I.e. open, closed, reduced services, etc.).