Dysart et al is shortening the amount of time its A.J. LaRue Arena will be used as a COVID-19 vaccination centre in response to public outcry.

The municipality announced the clinic March 18 and said it would close all bookings from March 20 to the end of September. The next day, the municipality changed course and said it would only run from April 5 to June 12 before a new location is found.

The initial announcement prompted community outrage, with people concerned about summer ice and the start of the next minor hockey season. Mayor Andrea Roberts said the initial proposal was accepted at the request of the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit (HKPR).

“We are all trying to do the right thing and get everyone vaccinated, so Dysart’s EOC (emergency operation centre) group said yes. Thankfully, the decision was re-evaluated,” Roberts said.

The health unit is preparing the A.J. LaRue Arena and the S.G. Nesbitt Arena in Minden as the County vaccination centres, with both expected to be ready in early April. The health unit is also working on pop-up clinics, including one for first responders at the Pinestone Resort March 18, which Roberts said could be part of a viable alternative.

“Everyone is working so hard to ensure we have places so we can all get our vaccine. With more temperature-stable vaccines, the possibility of pharmacies administering, and the S.G. Nesbitt centre booked, there are other options this summer,” Roberts said.

Local youth held a demonstration outside the Haliburton arena March 22, initially intended as a protest but shifted to a celebration after the municipality’s decision. Organizer and camp owner Greg Sadlier said people mobilized quickly to respond, with a petition garnering 75 signatures. He added the municipality needs to consider and consult youth more in the future.

“The youth came to me, and they said, ‘what can we do about this? How can we change this’?” Sadlier said. “For the youth to see something work so effectively, to see a way that they could make their voices heard in a substantial way, is really amazing to see.”

Highland Storm president, Jason Morissette, said the next season would be delayed under the previous timeline, which might have meant the Storm would not play against other teams in the region if that becomes allowed.

“Our community, it’s not like we have tons and tons of organized activities that are here for youth,” Morissette said. “We wanted an arena available for everybody, not just for hockey … We really appreciate their (Dysart’s) understanding.”

The initial proposal would have also meant the end of summer ice, utilized in summer camp programming by Hockey Haven. Owner Troy Binnie welcomed the municipality changing course.

“It would have been a tough situation to try to run a hockey camp without hockey,” Binnie said. “We are thankful for all the community support and town council support to have the decision reversed.”

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