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Banff's COVID-19 cases rising rapidly

“We have been told by the province that if requests for space exceeds our capacity, people would need to isolate at available isolation facilities in Calgary.”
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Hundreds of pedestrians walk shoulder to shoulder along a busy Banff Avenue during the Easter long weekend on Friday (April 2). EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO

BANFF – The number of isolation rooms available in Banff may be expanded given the growing number of COVID-19 cases in Banff National Park.

As of Monday (April 5), there were 63 confirmed active COVID cases in the Banff and Lake Louise region compared to six exactly two weeks ago.

The eight isolation rooms at the YWCA facility have been full for more than a week, but Town of Banff officials say there are now only three spaces remaining at the 20-room isolation facility run by the municipality at The Banff Centre.

However, they say the number of rooms at the Banff Centre could be increased to 24 if needed.

“The four remaining rooms are smaller and weren’t set up initially,” said Jason Darrah, director of communications for the Town of Banff.

“We have been told by the province that if requests for space exceeds our capacity, people would need to isolate at available isolation facilities in Calgary.”

Alberta Health has indicated variant cases have been identified in the region, but has not informed Banff’s Emergency Coordination Centre (ECC) how many cases.

In Alberta, 38 per cent of active cases are now variants of concern, which have a higher rate of transmission than the regular COVID strain.

Darrah said Banff’s ECC is very concerned about the rising cases in the region.

“Businesses in multiple locations and in different industries are reporting staff required to isolate or quarantine due to positive case diagnosis, or being defined as close contacts,” he said.

Banff’s ECC works to promote and help enforce provincial public health orders.

“The ECC is meeting with public health officials this week to explore additional options to safeguard our community and all Albertans,” Darrah said.

Last week, RCMP laid charges against several people in Banff for violating public health orders at indoor house parties, including one attended by more than 50 people on Wolf Street on St. Patrick’s Day and a smaller one on Muskrat Street on March 24. Those investigations are ongoing and more charges may be forthcoming

Darrah said Banff’s residents have been extremely vigilant in following all provincial protocols.

“The social gatherings last month were isolated incidents,” he said.

The Town of Banff has been putting focus on busy weekend visitation, which results in crowded sidewalks and trails where it is difficult to maintain physical distancing.

Darrah said enforcement staff and safety ambassadors worked additional hours over the Easter long weekend, responding to mask violations, clearing crowded locations on Banff Avenue and requiring two-metre distancing in queues.

“Enforcement also patrolled residential areas and businesses for compliance with public health orders,” he said.

As of Monday (April 5), Alberta had 10,582 active COVID-19 cases. There were 887 new cases identified on April 4, 948 new cases on April 3, 1,071 on April 2 and 1,081 on April 1.

There are 312 people in hospital, including 76 people in intensive care on Monday. The death toll province-wide is just shy of 2,000 people since the pandemic began, now at 1,998.

While Banff and Lake Louise have 63 active cases, AHS reported there are 34 active cases in Canmore and five in the MD of Bighorn, which includes Harvie Heights, Exshaw, Lac Des Arcs and Stoney Nakoda at Morley.

Banff and Lake Louise have previously seen how quickly the number of COVID-19 cases can grow, as was seen in November 2020 when seven active cases on Nov. 8 grew to a peak 192 by Nov. 29.