The Bow Valley generates billions of dollars a year in economic activity from tourism.
So when one of the recommendations from public health experts is to avoid non-essential travel, it makes it very difficult and almost antithetical for our local communities to discourage people from visiting.
Yet that is what we must do again. Of course, if the essential workers of the valley were to be vaccinated, then the risk to them of catching COVID-19 decreases, but alas we are not there yet and there appears to be little interest from Alberta Health to undertake such a measure like Whistler did recently.
To the west, the government of British Columbia has increased its messaging and enforcement around non-essential travel. Signs are expected to go up at the border to let Albertans know now is not the time to travel there.
Given that we have spent over a year now dealing with the pandemic, it should be of no surprise to anyone that when the weather gets nicer, we get busier. Vehicles lined the 1A Highway again this past weekend with sunshine and warm temperatures; Easter weekend had increased visitation, as did the time many spent on spring break.
Predictably, here we are with spiking case counts – Banff and Lake Louise reaching 138 and Canmore at 73, as of Tuesday (April 20). Isolation spaces are filling up, businesses are affected and some have closed temporarily due to close contacts, or confirmed cases.
At the same time, we want our local small businesses to survive this rollercoaster ride of public health restrictions that accompany each wave of the virus. But we also don't want front-line workers in the hospitality industry to catch this infectious disease, or variants.
The best way any one of us can help to get us past this incredibly difficult period in our lives, is to get the vaccine. Don't do that thing where you hum and haw between the different types – just get one and do your part in this final stretch of the battle.
Because we have been at war this entire time – since mid-March 2020. If you haven't taken COVID-19 as seriously as you would if we were a country at war (like those world wars that were just a few generations back), you have misjudged the task at hand.
This is life and death. It is life altering, with the potential for long-term complications. We have sacrificed jobs, lives, family time, vacations, concerts, dinner with friends – all to get to this point and let our guard down when we have the vaccine in hand?
It would be shamefully disappointing if we let that happen. So let's all check ourselves a bit longer and to our friends around Alberta who want to come to their playground to get away from it all in the next several weeks as we work to vaccinate our workforce – maybe skip the road trips into our towns.
Plan your recreational trips into the mountain parks in a way that reduces the strain on resources in our communities, while we bend the curve locally. Banff has the highest rate of COVID-19 per capita in all of Alberta – so why would you visit right now?
Furthermore, in an effort to keep those who visit the valley safe, we would urge motorists to refrain from parking along the 1A Highway to access recreational spaces in the provincial parks. This creates a serious public safety hazard and local officials have been lobbying hard to get RCMP and Alberta Parks to crack down on this type of behaviour.
Here in the valley, we have always been welcoming to visitors, regardless of where they are from. But right now, we are struggling with case counts and this infectious disease spreading in our workforce.
We would love to be able to welcome Albertans and Canadians back over the summer, but we will not be able to do that unless we get this third wave under control and we need everyone's help to make that happen.