BANFF – A Banff town councillor has pitched an ambitious pandemic response plan to avoid the potential for a second COVID-19 lockdown in light of the growing number of cases in Alberta.
Councillor Peter Poole’s integrated proposal includes testing all frontline staff, and potentially teachers and students, temporarily closing down bars or "last call" at 10 p.m., and widespread mandatory outdoor mask wearing in busy commercial areas.
Poole said an increasing trend in active COVID-19 cases, coupled with students heading back to school and more people mixing indoors as winter approaches, points to an increased risk of another lockdown.
“We have a responsibility to our business community to think of how we avoid a likely lockdown,” he said during a council meeting Tuesday (Sept. 8).
“We shouldn’t run away with any sense of paranoia or fear about this, but we should be very pragmatic as we move forward.”
While not commenting on the specifics of Poole’s proposal, council did direct administration to discuss with Alberta Health Services, health providers and other stakeholders, ways to strengthen Banff’s response during the pandemic.
Mayor Karen Sorensen supported administration bringing back options for discussion at the Sept. 21 governance and finance committee meeting, but noted Poole’s suggestions are his alone.
“Administration may or may not decide they are pertinent in the plan,” she said.
As of Sept. 11, Alberta had 1,444 known active COVID cases. Of those, 41 people are in hospital, including six in intensive care.
Over the Labour Day holiday long weekend, there were 619 new cases confirmed over just four days – 154 on Sept. 4, 171 on Sept. 5, 137 on Sept. 6 and 157 on Sept. 7. With five new deaths over the four days, the province’s coronavirus death toll rose to 247.
A student at Lawrence Grassi Middle School in Canmore tested positive for COVID-19 last week. Canadian Rockies Public Schools was quick to act, moving to online learning for quarantined students.
There are currently no active COVID-19 cases in Banff. All 12 confirmed cases since the pandemic began have recovered.
“We have maintained no active cases in Banff through the entire month of August – our busiest visitation month this year,” said Silvio Adamo, the Town of Banff’s director of emergency management. “I would like to thank our residents and commercial operators for following the rules and recommendations.”
However, based on the growing number of active COVID cases in Alberta, Coun. Poole said this province’s ratio is approximately of 33 per 100,000, noting that compares to Quebec’s ratio for imposing a second lockdown of 20 per 100,000.
“Alberta's current rate is 75 per cent higher than the level at which lockdowns would be required in Quebec,” he said.
Coun. Poole points to other places around the world, including Melbourne, Australia, which has been in its second lockdown since Aug. 2. Some restrictions may lift in the coming weeks.
That city and the surrounding region in the state of Victoria has a nightly curfew between 8 p.m and 5 a.m. and residents can only leave their homes for four reasons – shopping for essential services, care and caregiving, limited daily exercise and work.
“We know from the Australian experience where they’ve just had their winter associated with a second wave,” said Coun. Poole. “We anticipate that happening here too.”
Here in Alberta, Coun. Poole said Alberta Health Services continues to improve testing, tracing and isolation strategies for the novel coronavirus.
But he’d like to see testing of all front-line staff in the tourist town, and potentially teachers and students, two times per week.
“This is done on university campuses larger than our town, so it is possible. It works to detect asymptomatic carriers,” said Poole.
“By targeted testing of front-line workers we would find more asymptomatic cases of infection.”
Banff Town Manager Kelly Gibson said there are ongoing discussions with AHS about testing.
“We don’t have the authority to make the health authority work with us on testing – we do it very much in a cooperative manner,” he said.
“But if we can come up with a plan and they’re willing to work on something with us, we are more than happy to do that.”
Another part of Poole’s integrated response plan proposal is temporarily shutting down bars – or to have "last call" at 10 p.m.
“This is better than a community-wide lockdown,” he said.
The councillor also wants support, with food as one example, for families of school children who are quarantined so parents don’t need to go to work.
In addition, he suggested administration reach out to school districts to offer municipal buildings for use to help reduce class sizes, as well as look to other public service organizations for use of their gathering spaces for that purpose.
“Let’s have those discussions,” he said.
Meanwhile, Banff’s emergency management director said the rising number of COVID cases province-wide should act as a reminder to people to remain vigilant and aware of the ability of the virus to spread quickly.
“As we start spending more time indoors and in social settings, we need to maintain social distance, and wear masks when it’s difficult to do so,” said Adamo.
“Practise good hand hygiene and stay home when not feeling well.”