BANFF – The Town of Banff is investigating a COVID-19 vaccine passport for access to municipal facilities and services.
In addition to giving that direction to administration, town council has also authorized a letter be sent to the Alberta government lobbying for implementation of a province-wide vaccine certification card for non-essential services to help prevent additional lockdowns or restrictions.
At a Monday (Sept. 13) meeting, council supported Councillor Chip Olver’s move to have administration research a vaccine passport for access to municipal facilities such as the Fenlands recreation centre or discretionary programs like community classes.
“I am so troubled by what’s happening in our province … I am curious about pursuing some sort of vaccination certification for our discretionary facilities and programs,” said Coun. Olver, who is fully vaccinated.
“When we look at Banff’s numbers – we see that it’s come down and we probably do get some comfort from that – but we have so many visitors from outside our community and there’s so much potential for infection.”
As of Sept. 13, Banff and Lake Louise had 35 active COVID-19 cases, down from a high of 154 in mid-August during this fourth wave of the coronavirus.
Since the pandemic began in March 2020, the region has had 1,084 COVID-19 cases, of which 1,048 people have recovered and one well-known local has died.
The latest statistics show 9,254 people in Banff and Lake Louise have had their first dose of the vaccine and 7,855 are fully vaccinated. The mobile vaccine bus returns to Banff during Harvest Fest on Sept. 19.
Province-wide, active cases as of Sept. 13 are now up to 18,395. There are 803 people in hospital with COVID-19 and 202 people in intensive care units – the highest the province has recorded since the pandemic began.
Of those in hospital with the virus, 78 per cent are not fully vaccinated – 74 per cent with no dose at all and four per cent with one dose – while 22 per cent in hospital right now are fully vaccinated.
Alison Gerrits, who is a member of the Town of Banff’s emergency management team, said there are four dedicated COVID-19 beds at Banff Mineral Hospital.
As of Monday, she said two of the four beds were being used, but occupancy has varied over days, weeks and months throughout the pandemic.
“Earlier in the summer, at some point in August, all four beds have been occupied, but some days zero beds are occupied so it fluctuates,” Gerrits said.
“We were also assured by the hospital that if, for whatever reason, four beds are being used, there is the ability within the hospital to make some movements to increase the capacity if needed.”
There has also been a notable increase in critical COVID-19 patients being transferred from Banff Mineral Springs Hospital to city hospitals over the past month in particular, said Gerrits.
“I don’t have a specific number, but it is just an observation that this has been noted and there has been an increase,” she said.
According to hospital administrators, there were just six COVID-19 positive individuals seen by the emergency department at Mineral Springs Hospital in July, compared to 50 people in the emergency department in August who tested positive for the virus.
“Some of those individuals weren't necessarily going to the emergency department because of their COVID symptoms, but for anyone who was symptomatic, they were automatically swabbed as per the protocols,” Gerrits said. “The hospital is not swabbing asymptomatic individuals or everyone, only individuals with symptoms.”
With escalating hospitalizations and ICU admissions in the province, Mineral Springs Hospital has recently accepted non-COVID patient transfers from urban hospitals to help with the current capacity crisis.
“However, as of this morning, the hospital is confirming and wants the community to be aware that they have good capacity at this time,” Gerrits said.
Coun. Peter Poole, who is also fully vaccinated, voiced strong support for Coun. Olver’s motions to consider a vaccine passport for municipal facilities and programs and to push the provincial government given the ongoing alarming COVID situation in Alberta.
While noting he has shifted from anger to outrage at the unvaccinated, he stressed it was also important to continue thanking the overworked, burned out health-care workers who are dealing with the current wave of predominantly unvaccinated individuals in hospitals and ICUs.
“We’re getting to the point where the freedoms of the many are being compromised by the few,” Coun. Poole said, referring to those who are vaccine hesitant or refusing to get immunized.
“We have to be concerned, even if we are vaccinated, that the current level of circulation of this virus, which is being stirred up by the unvaccinated, is real concern for us and our tourism brand."
Mayor Corrie DiManno and Coun. Brian Standish, both mayoral hopefuls in the Oct. 18 election and both fully vaccinated, were keen to get the information from administration on a potential vaccine card for municipal facilities and services, but made no commitments.
“I am not sure I would support it at this time without learning a bit more about it and how it works and those types of things,” said Mayor DiManno.
The Town of Banff already has mandatory vaccine requirements for its employees – who risk losing their jobs if they don’t comply by the Sept. 23 deadline – but there are exemptions to the policy such as a religious or a health-related reason.
Previous reports from the Town of Banff administration indicated compliance was already above 90 per cent of approximately 300 employees, with only five indicating they hadn’t been vaccinated in August.
However, when questioned by Coun. Ted Christensen at Monday’s council meeting, administration had no further information.
“I was wondering if you could speak to the Town of Banff mandatory vaccination program… any ideas on the effectiveness so far on the compliance?” he said.
Town Manger Kelly Gibson said he couldn’t answer that because it is a human resources matter, but said he was happy to take the meeting in-camera if council wanted additional details.
“Broadly speaking, I can say the policy is legally sound and we have gone through an extensive review, and there are exemptions to ensure employees’ human rights are covered,” he said.
“The policy was put in place originally after occupational health and safety declared COVID-19 as a workplace hazard and the policy is in place to ensure the safety of all of our staff.”
Christensen said going in-camera doesn’t help him answer questions he is getting from the community.
“I know it was an operational decision, but it has political and social ramifications that we have to deal with, and I was hoping for some support from administration to deal with those,” he said.
“I’d like to know how it’s working and I’d like to know if anybody’s been fired.”