BANFF – The Bow Valley is experiencing record-high COVID-19 active case counts with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
As of Tuesday (Jan. 4), the official Alberta statistics show Banff and Lake Louise active cases more than doubled within days to 251; Canmore has 171 and the Municipal District of Bighorn, which includes Harvie Heights, Exshaw, Lac Des Arcs and Stoney Nakoda at Morley has 32 active cases.
However, the true number of cases is far higher due to changes in testing and reporting requirements, in which PCR testing through Alberta Health Services has been restricted to high-risk groups only, with other Albertans with COVID symptoms asked to complete at-home rapid antigen testing.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said the last two years have been the most challenging most people have ever lived through.
“Words like relentless, unfair, heartbreaking, and exhausting only scratch the surface,” she said in her Jan. 4 briefing.
“Those who have lost loved ones, those who have lost businesses, those who have lost their health, those who have lost jobs are just some of the losses that COVID has inflicted on us.”
And while reduced severity of the omicron variant to the individual may mean it’s tempting not to take this wave seriously, Hinshaw warned against that.
“We need to look no further than Ontario’s current experience to understand why,” she said.
“With counts far exceeding anything we have ever seen before, the sheer volume of cases means that daily hospitalizations are beginning to escalate,” she added. “The population risk is high even if the individual risk is lower and Ontario is only a little more than a week ahead of us. The actions we are all taking now are critical.”
Alberta is reporting more than 34,000 active cases province-wide, with 436 people in hospital, including 61 in intensive care. There were also 12 news deaths, including a child, bringing the provincial death toll from COVID to 3,322.
In Banff, the wastewater surveillance data for COVID shows Banff is off the charts. Banff and Lake Louise have the highest active case count in the province at 1,866 per 100,000 people. Canmore’s per capita case rate is 1,033 per 100,000.
The province said the best solution in the fight against omicron lies in people getting vaccinated, limiting in-person contacts and taking rapid tests.
Despite the threat to the health care system, Premier Jason Kenney does not appear interested in implementing any new restrictions.
Kenney said the COVID cabinet committee will meet Wednesday.
“We will continue to monitor the situation closely,” he said, adding the committee is reviewing data from across the country and around the world.
“As in the past, we regard restrictions as a last and limited resource given the damaging effect that restrictions have on the broader health of society.”
The Town of Banff has commissioned Aceso Medical to provide a walk-in COVID-19 vaccine clinic in council chambers for Banff residents on Sunday, Jan. 9, and Monday, Jan. 10, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on both days.
The walk-in clinic will be available for residents requiring any dose, including boosters for people who have had a second dose at least five months ago. Alberta Health cards are not required to be vaccinated at the clinics.