BANFF – With the arrival of springtime in the Rockies, day-trippers to the tourist town can expect to be stopped and turned around at checkstops into the foreseeable future.
With just four reported COVID-19 cases in Banff National Park, RCMP officers, community peace officers and firefighters continued to try to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus with checkstops last weekend (April 25-26).
Over the two-day period, 258 vehicles entering the townsite were related to essential services, including deliveries and construction, and 117 were passing through for supplies and gas.
Silvio Adamo, the Town of Banff’s director of emergency management, said there were 240 vehicles with day-trippers despite recommendations against non-essential travel, compared to 125 the weekend before.
“They identified that they were just wanting to come in and take a look around, and those were turned around,” said Adamo.
“Most people were very understanding on why we were turning folks around, but a couple we have to be a little bit more clear that they had to turn around.”
The Town of Banff's emergency co-ordination centre plans to continue with random checkstops at Mount Norquay Road and Banff Avenue at Compound Road into the foreseeable future, including on weekdays.
The famed tourist town typically sees up to four million visitors a year, but Adamo said provincial and federal health officers strongly recommend people stay at home, in their own neighbourhoods, and not travel unless it is essential.
“It is incumbent on municipalities who have these circumstances to do that education and to turn folks away, if necessary, so that we can continue to carry that message of the health authority,” he said.
“We see it as our role as a municipality to support the health authority and this is one of those mitigations we can take with our state of local emergency and those extraordinary powers,” he added.
“We believe it is a necessary step in Banff because of our circumstances, and we encourage other municipalities to weigh their circumstances to see if it is a necessary step for them to take.”
On the flip side, Banff’s emergency coordination centre is also asking residents of Banff to stay home, noting travel increases the risk of coming in contact with the virus – at gas stations, stores, and from other travellers.
At the checkstops last weekend, 1,036 Banff residents came and went from the townsite and 93 people from Lake Louise, Canmore or Exshaw.
“The warmth and the sunshine, I’m sure, makes us all want to get out on the trails and maybe even take a road trip,” said Mayor Karen Sorensen.
“But we ask that you stay home, hold on just a little while longer for the health of our community, our residents and your very own neighbours.”
While the Town recognizes residents do leave the townsite for essential services in Canmore or Calgary, Sorensen said the checkstops indicate when locals are coming and going.
“As we ask Calgarians to please not visit the Bow Valley right now, we also have to follow our own advice,” she said.
“We’re considered a part of the Calgary zone with AHS (Alberta Health Services) and we know that the cases in the Calgary zone do continue to increase, so please think about it before you leave the valley and limit your non-essential travel.”
As of April 27, the Banff and Lake Louise area had recorded four confirmed COVID-19 cases. Two are active cases and two individuals have recovered.
In the neighbouring Canmore region, which includes the MD of Bighorn hamlets, there are 17 cases, with only two that remain active. Province-wide, there are 4,696 COVID-19 cases. In all, 75 people have died 1,664 have recovered.
Adamo said the degree to which everyone follows health protocols in the next two weeks will determine outcomes for Banff – the increase in cases, or the speed to get to restrictions being lifted.
“As the weather gets warmer and as health restrictions start to lift, we will adjust as necessary,” said Adamo.
The Town of Canmore has no plans to implement checkstops at this point.
Jasper’s emergency coordination centre and local enforcement personnel are monitoring traffic in the area as the weather gets warmer.
“Information checkstops are not required at this time, but will be implemented if they become necessary,” according to the municipality’s website.
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