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Editorial: Local officials must think outside the COVID-box

Both communities are considering options. But Banff has more time to get ready, with Parks Canada sticking to its decision to keep national parks closed until at least May 31. 
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In a matter of a few months, everything we took for granted, our daily lives, health and future financial stability – all these things are completely different regardless of who you are, or your circumstances in life when this all started.

Nothing and no one is unchanged by this pandemic, even if you never actually end up getting the virus. 

While we settle into this understanding, the responsibility for making decisions to guide us as a community into the future falls to local officials and they should be empowered to consider ideas that may have been dismissed a few months ago, or not even considered in the first place.

There is no playbook, or best practices for what we are collectively experiencing – from both a social and economic standpoint. Our local communities are visitor-based economies and depend upon those who do not live here to come and spend money in local businesses to keep the engine running.

The economic reality for tourism is that local customers and foot traffic will not support businesses here to the extent they need to survive. Our business community in this valley needs tourism to stay open. 

But how do we safely and appropriately welcome visitors to our valley in the midst of a pandemic where all efforts to date have been focused on preventing the spread of this infectious disease? 

The first thing that would be nice are clear guidelines for all sectors on how to safely reopen. This nice-to-have appears to be hard to get, as general guidelines released on Monday by the province seem to be all that businesses currently have to work with. 

There are some sector specific protocols that were communicated to businesses as part of the relaunch strategy. Restaurants, for example, are allowed to reopen for table service during phase one of the relaunch, but only at 50 per cent occupancy.

At first glance, this seems like a straightforward guideline to give restaurateurs an idea of how many diners can be seated. The reality is that occupancy numbers are determined by the fire inspector, who considers square footage and number of exits when calculating how many people can be inside a business at one time.

Take a closer look at the occupancy number for a restaurant, then look at how many seats they have during normal operations, and you will notice a difference. Some restaurants are already operating below occupancy, so a 50 per cent guideline will not help them decide whether or not that is a sufficient safety measure. 

It is almost as if those making these rules don't understand how businesses operate in the real world – as if the front line workers of the UCP political engine have never actually been front line workers. 

The next thing is a safe environment in which to operate. 

When Canmore and Banff "reopen" – it is not for our locals exclusively. It will also be reopening for visitors and our largest source of tourism is the regional traveller – our fellow Albertans are our biggest customers. 

This is where how we manage Banff Avenue or Canmore's Main Street becomes integral to our success as Alberta dives into its economic relaunch strategy. 

Both communities are considering options. But Banff has more time to get ready, with Parks Canada sticking to its decision to keep national parks closed until at least May 31. 

Canmore, meanwhile, is headed into the May long weekend, and while campgrounds in provincial parks have not yet opened, Albertans are now able to access these wild places for day trips. 

Visitation to Canmore will begin to return this weekend and the community's emergency coordination centre is still working through how the movement of people on Main Street should be managed. 

It will be an opportunity for officials to see first hand whether or not there is enough space on sidewalks in Canmore's downtown core to manage foot traffic, and the potential lineups for customers social distancing at local businesses. 

With Banff still closed to visitation, the next two weeks will tell us whether or not Canmore and the surrounding provincial parks were ready to reopen and prevent the spread of COVID-19 at the same time. 



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