BANFF – Banff’s elected officials have ordered administration to draft a new bylaw to make it mandatory for most businesses to participate in the Alberta government’s vaccine passport program.
Council wants the legislation based on the City of Calgary’s bylaw, except in Banff’s case, children aged 12-17 won’t have to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to take part in sports and recreation at facilities such as the Fenlands.
Councillor Chip Olver introduced the motion following the province’s introduction two weeks ago of the restrictions exemption program, which allows businesses to operate without capacity and service restraints if they seek proof of vaccinations or a negative test.
“I think this is a good idea… Calgary is our closest large neighbour and that’s where the majority of our visitors come from,” said Coun. Olver during a marathon council meeting on Monday afternoon (Sept. 27).
With Alberta’s health-care system on the verge of collapse given a record number of people hospitalized and in intensive care units – predominantly unvaccinated – Coun. Olver said passing this bylaw would help protect visitors and residents.
“It is distressing to see what is happening in our province and how horrific this position is that we are in,” she said.
Coun. Olver said she believes the bylaw would help front-line workers, who could say the municipality requires vaccination proof, and would also allow for Banff’s municipal enforcement team to take action when necessary.
“Importantly, it lets us decide when to lift this bylaw rather than the decision-makers who have lifted restrictions too early and brought in restrictions too slowly,” she said.
Two weeks ago, Alberta declared a state of public health emergency and brought in new restrictions to deal with the crisis in the health-care system, including the restriction exemption program.
The Town of Banff has opted in to that program for the Fenlands recreation centre and for the Catharine Robb Whyte building, including the seniors centre and programming in the Pioneer room.
As of Sept. 24, most municipalities in the region are in alignment with the province’s recommendation that those aged 12 to 17 do not have to show proof of vaccination to participate in sports, recreation or performance activities, but still would for other purposes.
Alison Gerrits, a director on the Town of Banff’s emergency management team, said Canmore, Cochrane, Okotoks and Airdrie are all on the same page.
“For example, if an individual comes to the Fenlands and they are there to watch a hockey game or go to the concessions, we will be verifying proof of vaccination,” she said.
“If they show up to the door with a hockey bag in hand, we would be asking if they are there for the hockey game, and if that is the case, we will not be asking them to verify proof of vaccination at this time.”
Banff is on the downside of the fourth COVID-19 wave, with 13 active cases as of Monday (Sept. 27).
In June, there were as few as four active cases, before the case count climbed to 33 in July, spiking at 215 in August and hitting 39 in the first 26 days of September. From Sept. 19-25, nine new cases were diagnosed compared to six the previous week and 13 the week before that.
However, it’s a different story province-wide, where the number of active cases soared to 21,307 by Sept. 27. There are 1,063 people in hospital including 265 in intensive care – the highest since the pandemic began.
Gerrits said the province has not yet reached its peak.
“If you add up the case counts in the three largest provinces in the country – B.C., Ontario and Quebec – they are less than what we are experiencing in Alberta at just under 19,000 for all those provinces ,” she said.
According to the province, 80 per cent of patients in hospital are not fully vaccinated – 76 per cent have no dose and four per cent have one dose. The remaining 20 per cent are fully vaccinated. Of the 265 people in ICU, 92 per cent are not fully vaccinated.
“The total number of Albertans right now in ICU is 312 – and 85 per cent of those folks have COVID-19, so that is a significant large number of our ICU space in the province,” Gerrits said.
“Now as a province we have surpassed the hospitalization peaks and ICU peaks of the previous waves.”
A Bow Valley mom, whose seven-week-old baby was in hospital fighting to breathe, is pleading with Albertans to get vaccinated to lift the burden on the health-care system supporting the COVID-19 outbreak.
Jocelyn Hirose's son, Henri, was rushed to the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary on Sept. 17, where she said procedures had to be pushed back as staff were redeployed across the city to help manage the strain of sick COVID-19 patients.
While Henri didn’t require an operation, Hirose said nurses were being pulled in all directions and she had to wait hours and hours for a doctor to visit to prescribe the next course of action for her baby who was hooked up to oxygen as he struggled to breathe and wouldn’t feed.
“They are short nurses because they are being pulled to work in ICU and emergency,” she said, noting Henri came home last Friday (Sept. 24) and is recovering well.
Hirose said she is frustrated that many of the unvaccinated are giving into an uneducated narrative that is based on conspiracy and not science.
“Of course, there’s risk, but so is getting in your car or taking a tylenol. It’s a calculated risk for the greater good,” she said in a Facebook post.
In Banff, 9,556 people have had at least one dose and 8,135 are fully vaccinated.
Gerrits said 284 first vaccine doses were administered in the Banff-Lake Louise region between Sept. 9-23 and 264 second doses during the same time period.
Of the first doses, 61 per cent of those are individuals in the 20-39 age category, and 67 per cent of the fully vaccinated were in that same age group.
“That is exactly the demographic we need to move on with our statistics,” she said.
“There is some success there in terms of reaching the folks that we need to reach right now.”
Alberta Health Services' clinics and pharmacies now use the same centralized online booking system to book vaccinations at www.alberta.ca/vaccine. You can also book your shot by calling 811, visiting a walk-in clinic, or contacting a doctor's office.