March 12 was a curious day for Merlis Belsher. He went to the facility on the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) campus which bears his name to get his COVID-19 vaccination.
“I pinch myself when I see what’s happened here,” said Belsher. The facility, which is normally home to the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) Huskies hockey, basketball and campus leagues as well as Midget AAA Contacts and Midget AAA Stars, has been converted by the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) into a mass immunization site where thousands of people will receive the potentially life-saving COVID-19 vaccine. From June 2020 till March 2021, the site was home to the city’s field hospital, which stood at the ready but was never used.
“Who would believe it would be used for this kind of event?” said Belsher, who was last at Merlis Belsher Place March 1, 2020 to watch the Huskies men’s hockey team defeat the UBC Thunderbirds to a sold-out crowd.
Merlis Belsher is vaccinated by Dr. Florence Wardell on March 12.
On March 12, 2021, the site was buzzing with activity of a different sort. Dozens of health care workers were fulfilling their various functions to ensure Saskatoon seniors with pre-booked appointments get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“All of the workers at the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) deserve credit. They were working hard, they were organized and they were busy. They deserve tremendous thanks from all the people, and from me,” said Belsher
Belsher reported getting vaccinated was a painless process.
“I’d seen someone on TV getting the needle last night. That needle appeared to be several inches long, my arm is thin. I thought, ‘The needle will go right through my arm and the vaccine will be on the floor’.”
When the time came to get his shot, he turned his head and didn’t feel a thing. “I never knew she was finished.”
Even four hours later, his arm didn’t hurt and he was back in his office attending to affairs.
Belsher said he understood why the SHA wanted to use the facility.
The U of S multi-purpose sports facility, which includes the Ron and Jane Graham Sports Science and Health Centre, was ideal for a field hospital and mass immunization.
“I am very pleased that our university was able to fulfill a community need as required by the SHA. It’s a huge space; the gyms provide adequate waiting areas after receiving the vaccine; distancing is easy to accommodate; and the parking is good,” said Belsher, who donated $12.25 million towards the facility’s construction and was among those who influenced its design. Similar to university President Peter Stoicheff, he wanted the building to serve the community. In its current incarnation, as a site to help the province end the pandemic, it continues to fulfill this role.
Belsher said while he’s not about to lecture anyone, he thinks it’s important that everyone get vaccinated as soon as it’s available to them. He also asks that, following vaccination, people continue to follow infection prevention and control protocols such as masking, distancing and hand washing which is needed to protect themselves and others.
“We are not out of this yet. Until the variants are put to bed, the pandemic is of great concern.”
Although it may be a while yet, Belsher says he’s looking forward to the day when he’s once again watching hockey at Merlis Belsher Place.
“I’m hoping for it to happen. Mike Babcock will be coaching. It will be exciting. But the people are more important than sports. The people and dealing with the pandemic come first.”