BANFF – Banff’s elected officials have approved $20,000 to fund more vaccine clinics in the community as the region continues to be the province-wide per capita COVID-19 hotspot with a record-breaking case count.
In addition, the municipality continues to lobby the province of Alberta, which holds the responsibility for public health, for a large-scale vaccination clinic in the community, similar to what was done at the Fenlands recreation centre in 2021.
Councillor Chip Olver put forward the motion on approving $20,000 following the success of the municipally-funded vaccination clinics on Jan. 9 and 10 at Banff Town Hall, which saw 430 people were vaccinated.
“I don’t think we can wait on Alberta to open a mass clinic here. I think we can do it faster on our own,” she said during a special meeting of council on Wednesday (Jan. 12) for administration to give a COVID-19 update.
“I do think it’s a provincial responsibility in terms of these costs, but given that we won’t see it in the near future from the province I think we should move ahead ourselves and organize another vaccination clinic.”
The dates for the Town-sponsored vaccine clinics have not yet been set. Once known, information on the clinics will be published online at Banff.ca/covidhelp, and on the Town of Banff’s social media platforms.
The $20,000 funding for the upcoming vaccination clinics comes from Banff’s economic recovery reserve, which has an undedicated balance of $141,000.
Attendance of the two-day vaccination clinic on Jan. 9 and 10 was beyond initial expectations, with many people lining up on the first day having to come back the following day.
As a result, additional nursing staff were brought in for day two to administer more vaccination shots and the hours of operation were extended.
Silvio Adamo, the director of emergency management for the Town of Banff, said 147 of the 150 doses administered on the first day were booster shots, adding he believes that speaks to vaccination rates in the community –10,410 single doses and 9,298 double vaccinations as of Jan. 10.
“We were able to provide an additional 280 doses for the second day, bringing the two-day total up to 430 shots given, which we believe was a significant success for the community,” he said.
As of Jan 11, there are 244 known active COVID-19 cases in Banff and Lake Louise, keeping the region as the highest per capita rate in all of Alberta at 1,814 per 100,000 people.
However, these numbers are only based on PCR tests, and changes in eligibility requirements for PCR tests mean fewer are being carried out. PCR testing eligibility is now only focused on those who have clinical risk factors for severe outcomes and those who live and work in high-risk settings.
Other Albertans with COVID symptoms are asked to complete at-home rapid antigen testing – and those are also in short supply locally, provincially and nationally.
“It has been confirmed by the chief medical officer of health the number (of cases) is anywhere from four to 10 times the number, so we believe our active cases is significantly higher than the 244,” said Adamo.
In fact, the Town of Banff says the municipality can no longer really rely on the geospatial data provided on the province’s website as an accurate reflection of active COVID-19 case counts in Banff and Lake Louise.
Alison Gerrits, the Town of Banff’s deputy director of emergency management, said she expects Banff’s case count being recorded on the provincial website to drop substantially with the changes in eligibility for PCR testing.
“Yesterday, as an example, we had three new cases identified as compared to previous days where 58 cases were identified over the weekend, so we are going to start to see active case rates drop,” she said.
“We really can’t rely any further on the data that’s being published to the website given the regulations that have been put on who is eligible for PCR testing.”
Gerrits said the wastewater surveillance data is a far more accurate gauge and monitoring system, showing trends over time.
“It gives us a better and greater sense of confidence when we do start to see – and we will start to see – the numbers drop,” she said, noting wastewater samples are taken three times a week.
“To be honest, as much as we all got to rely on those daily active case counts, it’s a more accurate gauge because it’s non-discriminatory because it collects all of the virus in the community that is circulating.”
With a lack of ability to book PCR tests and a shortage of rapid tests, Coun. Olver stressed the importance of residents following provincial isolation rules.
“If someone has symptoms, they need to act as though they have COVID and isolate and not wait until they can access any tests,” she said,
Mayor Corrie DiManno said she knows there’s anxiety in the community whenever COVID-19 cases soar.
“Council’s heart goes out to those who are sick and having to isolate. It’s a dark time of year because of the sun going down so early and it can be made darker because you're feeling sick, you’re feeling alone,” she said.
“I just want to say to any of those folks – please reach out to friends, to family, to a medical health professional if you are needing any support – please, please do that.”
Mayor DiManno said council also feels for businesses in the community trying to manage staff shortages as well as employees who can’t work because they are sick and isolating.
“I want to ask everyone to take care of each other, stay calm and absolutely follow the advice of medical professionals,” she said. “This is a mental marathon we are on.”
Support services continue to be available for Banff residents. Visit Banff.ca/covidhelp for details, or email email@example.com or call 403-762-1251.