COVID-19 managed to dominate the headlines in Langley through 2021 as much as it did in 2020, with the community seeing vaccination campaigns, new waves of variants, and the impact of loosening and tightening health restrictions.
The year began with B.C. in the midst of the second major wave of coronavirus infections, and the province had gone through a very quiet holiday season that saw mass gatherings and even visits to other households banned under provincial health orders.
Those strict orders would be challenged early in the New Year by a group of Fraser Valley churches including Langley’s Riverside Calvary Chapel.
The cluster of churches continued holding indoor services in defiance of the health orders and challenged them in court. But in March, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Christopher Hinkson dismissed the churches’ petition.
“Although the impacts of the… orders on the religious petitioners’ rights are significant, the benefits to the objectives of the orders are even more so. In my view, the orders represent a reasonable and proportionate balance,” Hinkson wrote in his ruling.
While a few churches were opposed, most Langley churches, large and small, backed chief medical health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s orders.
Although vaccinations in B.C. first began in late December, through the first few months of early 2021, vaccine supplies were in short supply.
But in March, large supplies of the Pfizer and Astra Zeneca vaccines began to arrive in Canada, and local authorities could suddenly begin mass vaccinations. Shots were given at first at the testing site in the parking lot of the Langley Kwantlen Polytechnic University parking lot. But more space would be needed.
The Langley Events Centre, which had seen almost all its activities shut down, was announced in late March as the site of a mass vaccination centre. The floor of the main arena was covered with vaccination stations and waiting areas.
Over the next few months, thousands of people would move through the facility every week, receiving first and, later, second shots of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
But even while COVID vaccinations were being handed out at an increasing pace, infections were still high. A March circuit-breaker impacted a number of athletic activities, but the shutdown was not as dire as in 2020. Swimming continued at Township pools, but some group fitness activities were shut down.
Businesses took another hit, with local restaurant owners forced back to take-out or outdoor dining only, and wondering like Karina Martinez of Tacoholic in Langley City, how they would cope.
As more and more people were vaccinated and spring grew warmer, cases of COVID and hospitalizations in B.C. both dropped.
That led by the summer to major loosening of restrictions under the B.C. Restart Plan, which began on May 25. The circuit breaker was over, and indoor dining resumed, to the delight of local restaurant owners.
Restrictions were gradually eased, as the province moved through steps one, two, and three of the plan. Step four was to essentially be a complete return to normal activity.
The reopening allowed for the resumption of many athletic and cultural activities in Langley, including plays and concerts. Bard in the Valley returned to live performances in June,
Langley’s businesses eagerly began to open again, including the Cascades Casino, which re-opened on Canada Day after having been shut for more than a year.
Langley saw a continued loosening of restrictions and case counts bottomed out in early July. In the week from July 4 to 12, Langley saw just four positive tests for COVID.
Unfortunately, the Delta wave was just around the corner, and even as the province pushed for more people to get vaccinated, cases began rising again through late summer and into early fall.
As the fall progressed, and vaccination efforts largely stalled out, governments had to consider whether they would mandate vaccinations for their staff. Langley Township’s senior management decided on a vaccine mandate for its workers in November, as did Langley City, while the Langley School District decided against it.
School had continued throughout the year, with most kids wearing masks at their desks, but in November another level of protection was ready, as a pediatric formulation of the Pfizer vaccine was approved for children aged five to 11.
However, Langley’s initial uptake of the children’s vaccine was slow.
In November, just as the Delta wave was finally receding and local case numbers had been dropping steadily for weeks, the new Omicron variant arrived in Langley.
The year ended with B.C. case counts hitting record highs, and no sign yet of the fourth and final stage of the B.C. Restart Plan.
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