BANFF – Parks Canada plans to reopen the Banff Upper Hot Springs on Tuesday (Jan. 11) following several days of closure due to staffing shortages associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the Banff and Lake Louise region soared to the No. 1 COVID-19 per capita hotspot in Alberta last week, the popular hot springs experienced significant staffing shortages and closed January 8-10.
Parks Canada officials say COVID-related absences exacerbated other staffing issues, resulting in the short-term closure this past weekend, but say regular winter hours of operation resume on Jan. 11 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. The last entry is at 5 p.m. daily.
“Parks Canada continues to follow the guidance of public health officials for symptomatic and asymptomatic reporting, testing, and contact tracing,” said James Eastham, a Parks Canada public relations and communications officer in an email statement.
The pandemic has had a significant impact on the tourism and recreation sectors as many employees have transitioned into other industries.
Eastham said lifeguards are critical to ensuring the health and safety of staff and guests, and ensure the smooth day-to-day operation of the hot springs.
He said First Aid, CPR and National Lifeguard courses were cancelled for 18 months, further limiting the pool of potential employees interested in entering or re-certifying to work at an aquatic facility.
“This is an industry-wide shortage and many aquatic facilities across Canada are operating at reduced capacities or are unable to open until they can staff appropriately," he said.
When provincial health orders allowed Banff Upper Hot Springs to reopen earlier in the pandemic, hours of operation were significantly reduced compared to pre-pandemic levels based on the number of staff available.
“Parks Canada is continuing to adjust hours of operation as needed based on staffing levels,” said Eastham.
First Aid, CPR and National Lifeguard training courses are gradually resuming in some Canadian jurisdictions as of fall 2021.
As a result, Parks Canada officials say they expect a larger pool of candidates to be available in the future.
Eastham said the federal agency is continuing to recruit staff and is optimistic that hot springs in Radium in Kootenay National Park, Miette in Jasper National Park and the Banff Upper hot springs will be open seven days per week throughout the spring, summer and fall of 2022.
“Parks Canada also recognizes that it may take longer to build sufficient staff capacity to offer extended hours or after-hours rentals,” he said.
Visitors are encouraged to visit hotsprings.ca/banff and parkscanada.gc.ca/banff-covid for up-to-date trip planning information.
As of Jan. 10, the Banff and Lake Louise region had 281 active cases of COVID-19 officially reported by Alberta Health Services, with a per capita rate of 2,089 active cases per 100,000 people.
However, the true number of cases is far higher due to provincial changes in testing and reporting requirements.
Additional changes were announced by the province on Jan. 10 due to daily testing volumes beginning to exceed system capacity. Wait times for booking a PCR test are now approaching four days and turnaround time for providing results to patients is approaching 48 hours.
PCR testing eligibility will now be focused on those who have clinical risk factors for severe outcomes and those who live and work in high-risk settings. Other Albertans with COVID symptoms are asked to complete at-home rapid antigen testing.
Banff’s wastewater treatment surveillance data continues to indicate Banff’s rates are off the charts.