BANFF – Banff’s mayor is pleading with visitors to stay away from the famed tourist town during the global COVID-19 pandemic.
The national park tourist town typically attracts about four million visitors a year, thanks to a strong tourism marketing plan, but Mayor Karen Sorensen said now is not the time to visit.
“Sorry folks, this is not a time for a road trip … we’ve kind of reached the point where we’re saying thank you for not visiting,” she said, noting the townsite is very quiet right now.
“We have minimal to no services open in Banff and, of course, our health services in our community are needed for those that need them, you know that live here,” she told Mountain FM.
“We’re really encouraging people not to come to Banff right now, as weird as that it is for us, please stay home.”
On the other hand, Canmore looked like an almost typical weekend on Saturday (March 21) with visitors descending on the area, leading some residents to call on the Town of Canmore to restrict visitation to only essential travel.
Mayor John Borrowman said the municipality wants to let visitors know that "it is not appropriate to stop in town at this point."
"Driving through the mountains to enjoy the scenery is not prohibited by the government of Alberta, but we need Canmore residents and visitors to make socially responsible decisions," he said.
"This includes the need for Canmore residents to postpone trips out of town, while continuing to reach out and help isolated friends and neighbours."
Borrowman said the chief medical officer is still promoting going for a walk in your neighbourhood or park, or going for a ski on the trails, while maintaining distance from others.
"If you do this, please avoid high traffic areas" he said.
In Canmore, Borrowman said most businesses have closed or restricted services to make sure they can manage social distancing requirements.
"The hospitality and retail sector have been responding to this situation in a responsible way, following expert advice from the provincial health authorities," he said.
In an online address to the community on Sunday morning, Borrowman said the municipality – which has not called a state of local emergency – is keeping in very close contact with public health authorities and follows recommendations the province has put in place.
“These are every stressful times for all of us here in Canmore and around the world,” he said.
“I want the residents to know the Town of Canmore is working hard to protect our community and to address situations as they change.”
Parking lots and trailheads throughout Kananaskis Country, including Kananaskis Lakes and Elbow Falls, were jam-packed throughout the weekend.
Alberta Parks also stepped in to warn people to try to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus,
"Our parks are busy as Albertans get out to exercise and enjoy some fresh air," states Alberta Parks. "While on the trails, practice social distancing".
Services in provincial parks, including washrooms and playgrounds, are closed.
"This weekend we noticed garbage, used tampons, diapers, and even human waste next to our facilities," states Alberta Parks. Help us keep parks clean. Whatever you take in, take it back out."
On Sunday, Kananaskis Country Public Safety urged people to practice social-distancing.
The group’s Facebook post said lots of people were in the backcountry Saturday, many in groups at the trailhead, or groups of people travelling together in a vehicle.
“If you choose to go, travel in separate cars and stay at least six feet away from other people. If a trailhead looks packed or overly busy, then don’t go there,” according to Public Safety.
“The skiers we saw out there weren’t pushing it too hard or into big terrain and were practising the art of nice meadow walks.”
As much as people want to seek peace and rejuvenation outdoors in the mountains, authorities say now is not the time to visit the Bow Valley.
In fact, one property owner who advertised a “majestic mountain condo” for rent for $89 a night quickly came under attack on social media.
“Zero cases of coronavirus (Covid 19) in Banff and Canmore,” said the ad. “Come escape the panic and relax in the mountains.”
Other concerns continue be raised about people not taking social distancing seriously, even hosting big house parties.
Mayor Sorensen addressed that on Mountain FM.
“A lot of our employees are, of course, travelling home … their own countries are calling them home,” she said.
“We are watching very closely and monitoring house parties for sure, and just people who are gathering in public places and aren’t doing the social distancing thing – I mean it just isn’t smart.”
The Alberta government plans to announce new rules and enforcement sometime this week around social distancing and isolation to help stop the spread of the new coronavirus, given there are now 259 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the province, which included 33 additional new cases by Sunday (March 22).
According to the government’s website data, there are two cases in the Canmore area and none in Banff.
“I understand this week that Justice Alberta is working on a plan for penalties for enforcement so that the Town bylaw, and perhaps even the RCMP, need to have additional legislation passed to say they can in fact go in and enforce on something like that” said Mayor Sorensen.
“What I would say to people who are having house parties or not taking this social distancing seriously; you may not be afraid, but I can assure that the vulnerable population is very afraid, we as a community are afraid and please stop it,” she added.
“It’s not OK and it needs to stop. You have to ask as if you have COVID-19 or a person standing next to you has has it, because that is a very real possibility.”