SEXSMITH, ALTA – The Community Foundation of Northwestern Alberta’s latest Vital Signs reports confirms the pandemic has hadn’t a blanket effect on our quality of life.

“Although the pandemic affected us all, not everyone has been impacted equally,” Laura LaValley, CEO of the foundation, told Sexsmith council Dec. 6.

The “digital divide” was an issue for many in the region, as workplaces, schools and some social services moved to online virtual sessions.

The report found that between the start of the pandemic and July 36 per cent of students had difficulty completing coursework due to little or no internet access; 20 per cent had trouble due to computer access.

“I can tell you that in my life, I suddenly had five people at home all trying to do schoolwork and their day jobs, and the Bezanson broadband just didn’t hold up,” said LaValley.

The pandemic also created major setbacks to women in the workplace, with over 60 per cent of job losses being held by women, said LaValley.

Women have also found it more challenging to return to work due to working in the services sector, which typically requires face-to-face interaction. Return to work for mothers was also impacted by childcare issues.

The report, released Nov. 2, said 50 per cent of respondents said that access to affordable childcare was poor or below average in northwestern Alberta.

“Our Odyssey House women’s shelter in Grande Prairie had a 300 per cent increase in calls to their crisis line, and those are just the ones that called,” said LaValley.

“Women in Alberta have experienced greater declines in their mental health than men, and all of these findings suggest the importance of applying a gender lens to our recovery,” she said.

The mental health of Albertans is also on the decline, with 40 per cent of Albertans reporting a decline, says the report.

The higher rates of decline in mental health are seen in people aged 18-24, those with pre-existing mental health issues, indigenous people and LGBTQ2 people, explained LaValley.

The report also looked into reconciliation, finding that more locals have felt that they have a role to play in reconciliation.

The Community Foundation worked with the Grande Prairie Friendship Centre to create a resource for locals seeking to get involved with reconciliation.

The report gained the perspectives of 1,617 residents for the survey.

“This publication is really just a snapshot in the life at a certain time,” said LaValley.

“Keeping in mind that because things are moving so fast with the pandemic over the last 20 months that this is really just indicative of a certain point in time when we were able to gather the data because things were really moving quickly.”

“Having information like this is so critical. It’s a huge part as we think of moving forward in different areas,” said Kate Potter, Sexsmith mayor.

“I must say some of it is depressing, but it’s reality, and so we all need to know that so that we can understand maybe how to go forward in a positive way,” said Coun. Bruce Black.

The report can be found on https://www.buildingtomorrowtoday.com/vital-signs/.

Funding for the vital signs came in part from the County of Grande Prairie, City of Grande Prairie and the MD of Greenview.