Chamber looks forward to rollout of re-opening, rapid testing

The end of the pandemic and the re-opening is something the Battlefords Chamber of Commerce has been closely interested in.

Appearing as a guest on Access Now TV’s Talk of the Town show which will air this month, Battlefords Chamber chief operating officer Linda Machniak said she was in a conference call on Monday with her counterparts from across the province.

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A couple of items stood out from that call. One was anticipation of Premier Scott Moe’s “roadmap to reopening” plan and what the targets are for loosening of restrictions.

On Tuesday, Moe announced a three-step re-opening plan, based on achieving vaccination targets. The announcement included plans for a gradual expansion of gathering limit sizes and loosening of restrictions, along with stepped-up vaccination efforts and increases in vaccine supplies.

In a statement, SaskChamber CEO Steve McLellan gave a thumbs-up to Tuesday’s announcement from the province.

“This gives businesses and their customers a sense of what they will be able to do and when, while showing us what we all need to do to get us there,” said McLellan. “We've been working together for 15 months and it's great to see a roadmap for the next part of this journey.”

The other news from Monday’s conference call was work going on between the Saskatchewan Chamber and the Sask. Health Authority to “get a system in place so that businesses can have access to rapid testing kits for their employees, and how we’re going to manage that,” said Machniak.

As for how that would work, Machniak indicated there is going to be a sign-in and approval process, and once they determine how many tests are needed those will be shipped out. There are still some questions around how the deliveries will happen, and there was some initial talk about the Chamber office being the go-for for people to pick up the kits once they were ordered. But Machniak said now it sounds like the distribution centres would send them directly to businesses.

There will be a process where an employee can go through an online training program so SHA knows there is a qualified person able to administer the rapid tests at the business, Machniak said.

Counterpart Chambers in Ontario are doing much the same thing “to great success”, Machniak said.

In April, Waterloo Region rolled out what is called the StaySafe COVID-19 Rapid Screening Pilot, which provided free rapid tests for employees of small- and medium-sized businesses. The program involves the Government of Ontario, Communitech, and both the Cambridge and the Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Chambers of Commerce.

The indication from Machniak is that the Chambers in Saskatchewan hope to set up something similar. “We’re certainly hoping businesses and members will take up their turn when they can,” said Machniak.

While the Battlefords Chamber is looking forward to the future, they continue to navigate the current pandemic landscape and restrictions as best they can.

The Chamber continues to conduct meetings virtually including the recent “Chair’s Luncheon”, and Machniak reported she attended the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce Annual General Meeting this week - albeit virtually online.

“Everybody is having to make changes,” Machniak said.

On a more local level, the Battlefords Chamber is busy planning for events this year that can happen under the protocols, and the indication from Machniak was that they were watching the Premier’s re-opening announcement closely for guidance on their future plans.

The Chamber is still planning to hold the annual BBEX Awards in the fall, with details yet to come on how that event will take place.

Machniak also indicated they hope to possibly hold the Power Hour, the event featuring appearances by area political leaders, later this year in some form — whether live or virtually.

The big news this week is that one long-standing Battlefords Chamber tradition that was cancelled by the pandemic in 2020 is returning next month.

Machniak said they have received approval to go ahead with the annual Chamber Golf Challenge at Jackfish Lake on June 18.

It will be run according to COVID-19 protocols, which means there is no banquet this year. Regardless, Machniak said it will be a great opportunity to have “socially-distant, COVID-friendly networking” for members there.

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