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COVID-19 cases on rise in Banff with arrival of delta variant

“We have also been made aware that it is the delta variant that we’re dealing with here in this valley, which is very transmissible, and only about 30 per cent effective with one vaccination dose.”
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Alexandra Barker a nurse with ACESO Medical greets a patient at the pop-up COVID-19 assessment site in Banff on Saturday (April 10). EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO

BANFF – The number of COVID-19 cases is on the rise in Banff and Lake Louise now that the delta variant has arrived in the tourist towns.

The rapid increase in active cases to 16 has prompted officials to encourage people to take advantage of a mobile vaccination bus was in Banff July 27 and 28  Lake Louise on Thursday (July 29).

Town of Banff officials say they suspect the number of active cases is actually higher than 16 because positive cases of newly arrived out-of-province workers are being assigned to the case count in their respective home towns – not Banff.

“We have heard anecdotally that there are more cases with our out-of-province workers coming in from all over – B.C., Ontario, Quebec – and so it is concerning,” said Silvio Adamo, the director of emergency management for the Town of Banff.

“We have also been made aware that it is the delta variant that we’re dealing with here in this valley, which is very transmissible, and only about 30 per cent effective with one vaccination dose.”

Anyone who needed first or second doses could show up without an appointment at the mobile vaccination bus in Kananaskis Country and Banff earlier this week.

The mobile clinic moves on to Lake Louise on Thursday (July 29) from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.. The Lake Louise locations has not yet been confirmed.

Launched by Alberta Health and a coalition of businesses called Industry for Vaccination, the mobile vaccination service is one of only two of its kind in Canada – the other being in Quebec.

Anyone – even those without an Alberta Health Care card – can walk up to the bus for a Moderna vaccine. No appointment is required and vaccines will be administered on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Adamo said this was a great opportunity to get vaccinated.

“We are really hoping we get 600 doses in arms over the next two days, and hopefully with this group, we will have more opportunities for these mobile clinics in future,” he said.

“We’re also continuing to work with Alberta Health Services to try to get a few more mass vaccination clinics at the Fenlands (Recreation Centre). That effort is still going on.”

According to the latest provincial data on July 27, 8,746 people over the age of 12 in the Banff and Lake Louise region have received one vaccine dose, while 6,625 people are now fully vaccinated with two doses.

The Banff and Lake Louise region has had an estimated population of about 9,500 during the pandemic, but Adamo said that is likely higher now given people have been coming from out-of-province to work for summer.

“We really need to encourage everyone to get vaccinated with two doses. We want to make sure that everyone stays as safe and as healthy as possible,” he said.

“The delta variant is very aggressive; it transmits very easily and if we don’t have two doses on board, with at least two weeks after that, people are still vulnerable.”

Banff town council made a decision in at the end of June to scrap its indoor and outdoor masking mandate following the provincial government’s decision to do away with masks and all other public health restrictions as part of is Open for Summer plan.

There have been calls from some Banff residents to reintroduce the indoor masking bylaw now that COVID-19 cases are starting to grow and the delta variant has arrived in the community.

Adamo, however, said there have been no discussions around this at an administrative level, noting it would be extremely difficult to impose a mask bylaw with no similar restrictions in the province.

“It would be a pretty tough sell unless we do something on a much larger scale – like Alberta or Western Canada,” he said.

“It wouldn’t be very effective if it’s one small community that decided to put on an indoor masking bylaw. I think it’s something we have to look at on a much larger level – provincially and federally.”

As for the mobile vaccination clinic with business industry partners, Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro welcomed the efforts of the private sector to help get as many Albertans vaccinated as possible.

“They understand the value of getting our population protected so we can get back to our lives, our work, and past the pandemic,” he said in a news release.

“Every vaccination will help secure our province’s recovery.”

As of Tuesday (July 27), there were 1,173 active COVID-19 cases province-wide. There are 82 people in hospital, including 21 in intensive care. There were 151 new cases on July 23, 142 new cases July 24 and 94 new cases on July 25, and 134 more on July 26.

So far, 5.2 million vaccine doses have been administered throughout Alberta as of end of day on July 25.

That means 75.5 per cent of Alberta’s population aged 12 and over, or 64.4 per cent of the total population, has received a first dose, while and 63.9 per cent aged 12 and over, or 54.3 per cent of the total population, are fully vaccinated.

Banff’s second wave of COVID-19 pandemic jumped very quickly from just three cases on March 1 to a peak of 165 on April 25, making it the No. 1 COVID-19 hotspot in Alberta on a per capita basis.