The Bow Valley had a sneak peak at visitation for the summer months this past weekend, and while many Albertans stayed clear of the still-closed national parks, many flocked to nearby Canmore and Kananaskis Country.
If you live in Canmore and feel anxious about visitors returning to the community, your concerns are shared by elected officials, who have noted that messaging out of provincial officials has been contradictory with respect to travelling and enjoying outdoor recreation.
There is also the fact that Calgary represents a hotspot for the COVID-19 virus, which means Calgarians coming to Canmore to recreate or enjoy our local services (limited as they may be) are potential vectors for this disease.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Tuesday (May 19) her direction to Albertans travelling outside their neighbourhoods or communities to provincial parks, and towns like Canmore, has been focused on minimizing the number of local services visitors may need by bringing their own supplies.
"What we have done with respect to the public health messaging is make the recommendation when people travel away from home or their community that they think of stocking up on supplies, or filling up their vehicles [with gas] closer to home," Hinshaw said.
"We are in the early stages of the relaunch and this is a cautious approach."
With national parks beginning to open June 1, the Bow Valley can expect regional visitation to increase over the short term, backed by this messaging from provincial officials to stay safe, as opposed to stay home, like we were prudently asked to do early in this pandemic.
But it isn't Calgarians and fellow Albertans that present the greatest risk to spreading the virus in our tourist towns – it's American tourists who wish to spend their summer vacation in Canada's Rocky Mountains this year. Many are still holding onto reservations in July and August hoping make it this UNESCO World Heritage Site we call home.
On Tuesday (May 19), the federal government announced the border with the United States would remain closed until at least June 21.
With the infection rates south of the border, the federal government should take an extremely cautious approach to changing that status. Too soon and without the proper mitigations, it will spell disaster for our country to see infection rates surge as a result.
Minister of Health Tyler Shandro confirmed this week that anybody travelling into Alberta will have to quarantine for 14 days, including potential U.S. visitors once the border reopens. These quarantine plans will have to be provided to border officials upon entry into the province.
"It is part of our relaunch strategy to have measures in place at our international airports in Edmonton and Calgary, as well as at our land border crossings," Shandro said.
Alberta has committed to providing provincial staff to augment federal border security efforts to ensure visitors are screened properly and abide by the rules.
But here's the rub – will those choosing to travel internationally during the outbreak of a brand new infectious disease around the world also be the kind of visitor to follow these rules once they are here?
If we track attitudes towards COVID-19, those who ignore public health restrictions and recommendations are not the kind of visitor the Bow Valley would be interested in welcoming this summer to our valley.
The federal government should consider keeping the U.S. border closed to travel for the entire summer to protect communities like Canmore and Banff from being inundated by visitors that put them at a higher risk of being infected.
If they don't, there should be a concerted federal and provincial effort to support visitor-based municipalities with the resources they will need to enforce these rules within our own community.
That means funding or actual boots on the ground to ensure visitors respect that they are under our roof and there are house rules that shall be followed. After that 14 day quarantine, visitors will be free to enjoy our community's amenities without placing residents at a higher risk, but not one second earlier.
It would be nice to know this will be enforceable before any changes to whom we allow into this province are made.