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Banff stands down COVID-19 emergency management team

“We’re still keeping a close eye on COVID and developments within the province and the country,” said Silvio Adamo, the director of protective services for the Town of Banff.
20211108 Vaccine Bus2
The province's mobile vaccination bus was in town earlier this month to encourage people to get vaccinated against COVID-19. GREG COLGAN RMO PHOTO

BANFF – The Town of Banff’s emergency management team for the COVID-19 pandemic is standing down.

Officials say the Banff and Lake Louise region currently has three active cases and a relatively high vaccination rate, recently surpassing the 10,000 mark for first doses and just over 9,000 for second jabs.

“We have stood down our DEM team currently to give them a break,” said Town Manager Kelly Gibson, who said staff still attend regular provincial updates to municipalities on the COVID-19 situation.

“If there is another wave, obviously we would get back together quickly and go from there.”

The DEM team refers to the directors of emergency management, which include a three-person team of Gibson and Alison Gerrits, who is the director of community services, and Silvio Adamo, who is the fire chief and director of protective services.

Councillor Chip Olver wanted to make sure the DEM team could get back together if warranted.

“There’s not a lot, but there’s some articles in the mainstream news about a fifth wave,” she said.

“If that was to happen in Alberta, or perhaps in Canada, we would see calling together the DEM again?”

Gibson said that would likely be the case, depending on the circumstances and severity of the situation.

“If we had a high spike of cases and we needed that data to be able to make decisions we would call that team back together,” he said.

There have been a total of 1,132 COVID-19 cases in Banff-Lake Louise since the pandemic began. There have been 1,128 recovered cases and one death. There were three active cases as of Nov. 24.

In neighbouring Canmore, there are eight active cases. A total of 632 cases have been diagnosed since the pandemic began, including two deaths.

There are 11 active cases in the Municipal District of Bighorn, which includes Harvie Heights, Exshaw, Lac Des Arcs and Stoney Nakoda at Morley.

In Canmore, Kananaskis, MD of Bighorn, Stoney Nakoda and West Rocky View Country, 20,784 per cent (75 per cent) are fully vaccinated, while at 22,271 (80.5 per cent) have had at least one dose.

With Banff’s high vaccination rate and low number of cases, administration recently stopped giving COVID-19 updates as an automatic standing item on the council agenda.

The informative updates began shortly after the country went into lockdown in March 2020 at the start of the global COVID-19 crisis.

During Monday’s council meeting, Coun. Olver was unsuccessful in her motion to have the updates remain an automatic part of each council meeting, though in a simplified form.

“We were getting them every meeting, then it stopped,” she said.

Chief Adamo stressed that an update would be provided to council if the current COVID-19 situation changed.

“We’re still keeping a close eye on COVID and developments within the province and the country,” he said.

“If you left it to our discretion, we’re certainly not going to let anything slip from all the hard work that has been done with this municipality over the past two years.”

Gibson said municipalities are in a holding pattern with the province, noting there is not much information to share beyond what is available on provincial websites.

“There isn’t much that we can report on at this time, and really the best location for that information is with the province right now,” he said.

Coun. Ted Christensen said he still wanted to see regular updates at every council meeting.

“Our DEM team has provided us with stability in the communication of the COVID situation that I haven’t found listening to other sources of information,” he said.

“We get feedback, we get questions answered and I think it’s important, especially going into the Christmas season where the awareness and concerns are going to be heightened.”

But Coun. Grant Canning said there’s no need for regular updates.

“I don’t see it as being necessary and not because I believe the pandemic is over, we know it is not over… maybe optimistically it’s plateaued, maybe even gotten better,” he said.

“The question for me is more around is there enough specific information to pass along outside of existing channels?” he added.

“I have no doubt whatsoever that if there is an important update for council to receive, Mr. Gibson will be the first one to add it back on the agenda.”

Coun. Olver, who was pleased to see the Pfizer vaccine approved for children aged five to 11 and is being rolled out in Alberta this week, also wanted to know if there were any plans to continue bringing the mobile vaccination bus to Banff.

She said she was also delighted that there was no spike in cases after Halloween this year.

“What happened after Halloween last year, with a lot of house parties,  led to a large increase in cases in Banff, and it’s been almost more than a month since Halloween and we haven’t seen that,” she said.

“I think it’s a change in people’s behaviours and the impacts of vaccinations.”

Gibson said there are no immediate plans for the mobile vaccine bus, noting it wasn’t as well attended last time.

“At this point, we do have a relatively high rate of vaccinations, so I am not sure where they would be as far as putting Banff as a high priority to come back to,” he said.

“I know there was a number of comments about the number of trips they had made to Banff, so at this time, we are pretty comfortable with the level of service we’ve got from the bus.”

At the Monday meeting, council also decided to go to weekly website and social media updates on COVID-19 data, including the number of cases and vaccination rates. Currently, that occurs three times a week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

“It does take a lot of time and resources from Town staff, “ said Gibson.

Province-wide, there are 5,001 active COVID-19 cases. There are 475 people in hospital, including 94 in intensive care. The provincial death toll from COVID is 3,227 people.