BOW VALLEY – As concerns about the COVID-19 coronavirus continue to escalate in Alberta, the Town of Canmore has activated its emergency coordination centre while a local school board has suspended community use of its facilities.
Officials with the Town of Canmore said the municipality's emergency coordination centre (ECC) was activated on Friday morning (March 13), while Canadian Rockies Public School division confirmed that all schools in its division will be closed after 5 p.m.
“This means that we are proactively implementing measures to try to slow the spread of COVID-19,” wrote the Town’s communications manager Robyn Dinnadge in an email.
“While the worldwide risk is rising, the risk of contracting the virus in Alberta, and Canmore, is still low. We are following the lead of provincial and federal public health agencies.”
Dinnadge said information is changing by the hour each day and the Town is aiming to be as prepared as possible.
“We have not declared a state of local emergency at this time,” added Dinnadge.
A emergency coordination centre is a formalized structure implemented for emergencies, explained Dinnadge.
"Right now, it means that we are meeting daily to get updates and respond with action steps," she said.
The province describes an ECC as "a community's 'nerve centre,' anticipating and supporting the needs of one or more incident sites, coordinating the efforts of multiple partners, and addressing the community's needs as a whole."
The Town will update its website at canmore.ca/covid-19 as information becomes available.
Meanwhile, CRPS issued a statement Friday indicating it will be suspending community use of its facilities.
“In light of the most recent announcements regarding COVID-19, CRPS has taken further precautionary steps and has suspended all community use of our facilities,” the statement said.
“All co-curricular and extra-curricular activities will be reviewed on an individual basis as the situation arises.”
Field trips outside of the school community have also been suspended, while an upcoming science fair has been postponed.
In its release, CRPS stressed that the measures being taken are precautionary and it will continue to update the community as more information becomes available. In addition to this, CRPS said any school closures would be decided by Alberta Health Services (AHS), not the board itself.
A letter posted on the Christ the Redeemer Catholic School division website Thursday (March 12) indicated a heightened cleaning protocol has been implemented at its schools, which includes Canmore's Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Academy, and that the division is “actively reviewing and refining its existing pandemic flu response plan.”
As of Friday (March 13) afternoon, Alberta’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 rose to 29 with six new cases announced, all of which are travel related.
Premier Jason Kenney said he's written a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking for more supports to respond to the situation as it unfolds.
"I've written a five-page letter to the prime minister detailing how we need federal assistance to acquire more bulk protective equipment for medical professionals to keep them safe," he said.
"We expressed support of federal use of the Quarantine Act, we called for enhanced access to Employment Insurance, including for the self employed who would not normally be covered because we do not want anybody feeling like they have to work if they're feeling ill and should be staying home."
Kenney said effective immediately, the province has amended regulations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, removing the need for a medical note and extending paid sick leave from five to 14 days.
"That means that every employed Albertan who is impacted by COVID-19, whether they are self isolating on the recommendation of AHS or caring for a family member, is now entitled to 14 days of job-protected leave without fear of losing their jobs or suffering wage penalties," he said.
"This change will also apply to new employees, as we are waving the 90-day employee eligibility period ... We're calling on the government of Canada to further expand EI benefits for the duration of this public health crisis."
Coronavirus itself is a large family of viruses, according to the Alberta government website.
“Some cause respiratory illness in people, ranging from mild common colds to severe illnesses,” stated the province's website.
“Novel coronaviruses, like COVID-19, are new strains of the virus that have not been previously identified in humans. This means people have no immunity against it and it has no specific vaccine or treatment.”
According to Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health, the province has no plans to close schools at this time.
"Given the current situation in Alberta, the fact that any school closure would need to be in place for months not weeks to be effective, and the fact that students may still be at risk of spreading infections in other settings beside schools even if schools were closed, I have advised that school closures not be implemented at this time," said Dr. Heena Hinshaw.
"To be clear schools, daycares and post-secondary institutions can remain open, but steps should be taken to make sure that no more than 250 individuals are in a room at any given time."
While around 80 per cent of those who’ve contracted COVID-19 have survived, it can be serious for those with pre-existing medical conditions, or those who are older.
The symptoms of the COVID-19 coronavirus are dry coughing, fever and shortness of breath.
The Canmore General Hospital and Banff Mineral Springs Hospital cannot test for coronavirus. Those who believe they have symptoms should stay home and call Health Link at 811, according to Alberta Health Services.
“If you have symptoms such as fever, cough and difficulty breathing and have travelled outside Canada or have been exposed to someone who has COVID-19, stay home and call Health Link 811,” stated the AHS website.
“If you are not seriously ill, do not go to a physician’s office, a health care facility or a lab without consulting with Health Link 811 first. Call 911 if you are seriously ill and need immediate medical attention and inform them that you may have COVID-19.”
In the last 24 hours, the Bow Valley has seen numerous events cancelled or postponed such as this weekend's Banff Curling Club Men's Bonspiel and next weekend's cross-country world cup at the Canmore Nordic Centre.
Click here for an updated list of event cancellations, postponements or closures in the Bow Valley.