Announced about an hour before the province declared a public health emergency, the MD of Bighorn released a statement saying most staff will be working remotely from home and official meeting such as council, committees, boards and commissions will be suspended for the next 30 days effective Tuesday (March 17).
“We are simply being pro-active than reactive and I commend administration for organizing itself in the event infections begin to express themselves within the MD,” Reeve Dene Cooper said.
With a population of approximately 1,500 people between five spread-out hamlets located between Cochrane and Canmore, Cooper said the humble district has 24 MD staff and they wanted to make sure they are pandemic prepared.
“We have to be careful we are managing social distancing to impede containment should it occur … we are now structured so we should be able to manage,” Cooper said.
Following suit with other Bow Valley municipalities – Canmore closed its popular recreation facilities on March 16 and Banff declared a local state of emergency a few hours before the province declared a state of public health emergency Tuesday. The reeve said the reason for the month-long delay is due to the fact the municipal district typically only has one meeting a month for council, finance and economics, streets and roads committee, and municipal planning commission.
“We think for the next 30 days we can postpone [all] of the meetings and once the 30 days is up we can re-examine the structure and see if it needs to be rearranged … we have five members of council and council works on a quorum – we have to manage so all of us do not fall ill at the same time,” Copper said.
COVID-19 first hit Alberta on March 5 with initially two presumptive cases jumping to 97 confirmed cases in less than two weeks. According to the provincial government, there are 70 cases in the Calgary zone, which includes Banff and Canmore, although officials will not confirm there is a positive COVID-19 case in the Bow Valley.
When Alberta declared a public health emergency under the Public Health Act, the Alberta’s Provincial Operations Centre elevated from a level 3 to a level 4, the highest level, while the province also cancelled all events that have more than 50 people.
“These measures are necessary if we are to limit the spread of COVID-19 in our province," said Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw this week.
"Our intention is to limit opportunities for disease transmission by limiting the amount of time Albertans are spending in large crowds and crowded spaces. All Albertans should take immediate action and follow all recommended public health measures."
MD officials said they have yet to hear of a positive case in the municipal district and it is important for them to be proactive, not reactive.
“With our preparedness planning, we want to have our staff resources protected (in place) and functioning before the first cases appear," MD Chief Administration Officer Rob Ellis said.
Cooper noted this is not the first time the MD has faced a state of emergency, referencing the 2013 southern Alberta floods that severely damaged several hamlets and displaced residents.
“This is not the first state of local emergency we’ve had – we’ve had flood, [landfill] fire and now pandemic. I’ve had a talk with council and I believe we are moving forward in an intelligent way, I am very satisfied and have confidence … we are only organizing for structural success at this point,” Cooper said.
Officials also noted the 30-day closure is something subject to change depending on the situation unfolds.
“The length of time we chose is because we are a very low, very remote population,” Copper explained.
For now, residents can still contact the office via phone at 403-673-3611, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.