Municipal leaders in Morden and Winkler are on standby, as provincial officials have yet to pick the site for a new COVID-19 vaccination clinic set to open in just 10 days.
Two new high-volume clinics are scheduled to open March 5, the provincial government announced last week: one in Selkirk and one in the Winkler-Morden area, though the exact locations had yet to be determined.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Morden Mayor Brandon Burley said he had not heard from the province if his municipality would play host to a vaccination centre.
"We would welcome them with open arms," Burley told the Free Press. "This is, hopefully, the biggest challenge of our lifetime, and we need to get needles in arms and get this behind us.
"We will certainly do everything we can to facilitate them if they choose our city."
Burley said conversations between the municipality and province are ongoing and, on Feb. 19, provincial and regional health officials made the trip out to Morden to tour the city’s Access Event Centre.
The facility is fully accessible and has 8,500 square feet of available space, Burley noted. It also serves as the emergency response site for the region and is equipped with the backup power generators required to keep vaccine-loaded freezers running in case of a power outage.
However, the province would require the facility for an extended period of time, the mayor said, meaning some rec activities at the centre would be relocated. Burley said the city’s two indoor rinks would not be affected.
"We know there is some sacrifice that would be involved in hosting a major clinic like this, but it’s a part we’d be more than happy to play, and we would work to make them as comfortable and make the space as suitable as can be for their purpose."
Thirteen kilometres to the east, Winkler Mayor Martin Harder said the province and the municipality have ruled out using any of its civic buildings to host a large-scale vaccination clinic.
Harder said the province and Winkler’s city manager have had extensive calls about potential sites, including the brand-new Meridian Exhibition Centre.
Construction of the 84,000-square-foot facility wrapped up in late October. However, Harder said the facility only just opened to residents with the latest rollback of COVID-19 restrictions to allow access to its walking track.
Should such a clinic be staged at the Meridian, the province would require a 14-month commitment and the facility would not be able to offer programming, Harder said.
"We said no," the mayor said. "It’s been so many years waiting for it to be completed that finally now that it is, we certainly don’t want to sit back and not make it available to our community as the restrictions lift."
Provincial officials also toured the Southland Mall in Winkler as a possible location, as the retail outlet has a number of vacancies ahead of an upcoming renovation.
"We don’t have any buildings sitting empty that could be usable for (a clinic) and, fortunately, our manufacturing industry is very active and so therefore it’s even difficult to find private owners that have facilities that size," Harder said.
"Certainly, between Morden and Winkler, it’s a challenge to find something that is available for the length of time and the size that they’re looking for."
Meanwhile, in Selkirk, chief administrative officer Duane Nicol said the province also struck out when it came to using one of the city’s municipal buildings for the mass vaccination clinic.
Nicol said formal conversations with the municipality began in early February and, ultimately, the province and the city determined none of its facilities met the mark.
The province required between 15,000 and 20,000 square feet for the clinic, among other considerations including backup generators, security and connectivity, and accessibility, Nicol said.
The Free Press requested Tuesday an interview with Johnau Botha, co-lead of the COVID-19 vaccine task force, but he was not made available.
A provincial spokesman said information about new clinics would be provided today.
In a statement, the province said the exact clinic locations in Selkirk and the Winkler-Morden area will be made public in "coming days," but did not say whether the March 5 opening would be delayed.
"Before a location can be formally announced, discussions must be held with respective municipal leaders. This process can take time in order to finalize all pertinent details," the statement read. "Super sites will be ready to open when we have enough vaccine supply to do so."
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.