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AHS ramping up testing at outbreak sites in Banff

A COVID-19 testing site for the general public will open in the south parking lot at the provincial health building in Banff on Friday (Dec. 4), and an isolation centre is expected to open as early as Monday (Nov. 30)
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Hundreds of pedestrians walk along Banff Avenue on Saturday (Nov. 28). The Town of Banff declared a state of local emergency in tandem with the measures enacted under the Provincial Public Health Emergency, to stop the spread of COVID-19. EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO

BANFF – Provincial mobile teams are in Banff offering COVID-19 tests at businesses where there have been outbreaks of five or more positive cases among staff.

In addition, a COVID-19 testing site for the general public will open at the community health centre on Lynx Street, Banff on Friday (Dec. 4), and an isolation centre opened Monday (Nov. 30).

Mayor Karen Sorensen said this is all good news for Banff as the COVID-19 case count has been rising over the past two weeks, now up to 191 active cases in Banff and Lake Louise.

She thanked everyone involved for working tirelessly for additional isolation rooms and for increased testing capacity for the Banff community, which has one of the highest rates per capita of the virus in the province.

“With increased testing, there is always a possibility of increased positives, which we did see some of the jump from the time that mass testing was done at the one employer I’m aware of, and over the weekend,” Mayor Sorensen said.

“But it is, from my perspective, much better to know and everyone can be much better prepared. This testing to me is absolutely a huge part of our solution moving forward and it’s so welcomed.”

Silvio Adamo, the Town of Banff’s director of emergency management, said more than 1,000 tests were completed last week between the Alberta Health Services’ (AHS) swab team and the local doctors’ offices.

He said the municipality also received provincial confirmation that the AHS COVID-19 testing facility would be up and running in the parking lot on the south side of the health unit on Friday, noting it is for those with COVID-19 symptoms or those who are close contacts of a confirmed case.

The assessment centre will be open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. This service is for booked appointments only, which can be scheduled online on the AHS website at COVID-19 Testing / Online Booking.

“This site will now operate five days a week, Monday to Friday, and will be conducting approximately 100 tests per day, and that could expand or contract, dependent on demand,” Adamo said.

“The site will show up on the AHS COVID testing website when booking, as well as 8-1-1 operators referring folks in the area.”

In addition, AHS has confirmed they will have mobile swab teams working with employers that have an outbreak of five or more cases.

“They will be starting large scale testing, starting this Wednesday,” Adamo said. “The Town has provided a testing facility for this to happen.”

The Town of Banff has been able to help connect businesses with a staff COVID outbreak with the regional medical officer of health, which in turn sends the mobile testing teams.

“Luckily, we’ve been able to have situational awareness in the community,” said Alison Gerrits, who sits on the Town of Banff’s emergency management centre.

In addition, the Town of Banff’s emergency social services team worked through the weekend with the operators of a space for 23 additional COVID-19 isolation rooms for the community.

Adamo said it was operating Monday afternoon and they were beginning to check people in.

The location is not being identified initially to ensure individuals do not visit the facility. The facility will expand isolation space in Banff, by adding to units provided by the Banff YWCA.
 
The emergency housing is available to qualified Banff residents who live in a shared accommodation, and have tested positive for COVID-19, or have been notified they have been a close contact of someone who has tested positive for the virus.

Mayor Sorensen thanked everyone for the hard work.

“I think it’s important to understand and appreciate that these things do take time,” she said.

“Now a number of the measures that I think people were looking for have come into place, not the least of which is an incredible increase in testing locally in our small town.”

Access to the isolation facility will be managed though the Town of Banff at banff@help.ca or by phoning 403-762-1251.

As of Nov. 30, 1,733 new cases were identified over the previous 24 hours, bringing the total number of active cases in Alberta to 16,454. There are currently 453 people in hospital due to COVID-19, including 96 in intensive care.

Alberta's COVID-19 death toll now sits at  541.