The Town of Banff has closed its Town Hall and Fire Hall to public access as a measure to reduce the spread of the new highly contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19. The Town is reducing in-person services to reduce the risk of exposing the virus to staff involved in essential services, such as firefighters, enforcement personnel and the emergency services workers they interact with. The facilities are closed until further notice.
“All businesses and organizations are being affected by the rapid spike in positive cases in Banff, and it is prudent contingency planning for the Town to take steps to ensure we maintain uninterrupted essential services to the people in our community,” said Kelly Gibson, Banff’s Town Manager.
“Even though we have a mandatory vaccination policy for our employees, this new COVID variant can cause breakthrough infection, and we have seen about 20 staff members test positive. The good news is – with our fully vaccinated staff we are not seeing serious illness or, in some cases, any symptoms at all. Our built-in contingency planning and ability to redeploy cross-trained staff means we remain fully capable of providing essential services for Banff.”
The Town is also maintaining Alberta’s work-from-home requirement for all office staff. The Town’s Emergency Management Team has continued to meet over the winter break, consulting with Alberta Health officials, local agencies and Banff Town Council, and continually evaluating how best to support and protect our community. The decision to close Town Hall to the public is being reassessed every few days. The Town is prepared to implement new provincial public health orders, if required, and assesses local options as the situation changes.
Yesterday’s Government of Alberta announcement about shorter isolation requirements for vaccinated individuals and early return options for essential work are also being incorporated into contingency planning.
Town services available by phone and online
All public services normally provided at Town Hall are available online or by phone. The general Town Hall number is 403.762.1200 during business hours (8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., closed over the noon hour). Services are also available online at banff.ca. Community Services are available at 403.762.1251 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Other contacts are available at banff.ca/ContactUs
Due to the extended closure of the Banff Elementary School, the Town’s drop-in programs and Out-of-School care are cancelled until Jan. 10, 2022, when the facility is expected to reopen. The Town is exploring options for offering children and family programming outdoors next week. No other Town services have been affected at this time.
Critical services will be prioritized to continue operations such as snow and ice control, waste, water and sewage services, and recreation services, along with emergency services. Should adjustments to resident-facing services be required, the Town will inform Banffites as soon as possible.
Town of Banff urges everyone to help stop the spread and support others
Alberta Health reports that the Banff region currently has the highest number of positive cases per capita in Alberta, at 131 cases for the town and national park. The province also emphasizes that there are many more cases that are being reported in every region due to the change in testing and reporting. The Banff region peaked at 186 cases on Nov. 28, 2020.
“It is critical that visitors and residents take extra measures to help us stop the rapid spread in Banff,” said Banff Mayor Corrie DiManno. “We know the rise in cases causes anxiety in our community, but we need to stay calm, take care of each other, and follow direction from medical professionals.”
“Normally, we would be celebrating a new year together, but instead we are going through this challenging time of stress and uncertainty due to the new variant. Whether you realize it or not, this has an impact on mental health. So, please reach out to friends, family or to a medical professional if you need help, and please be respectful of others, especially those who are required to implement COVID restrictions and those who are feeling anxious or distressed about this fluid situation.”
The Town of Banff is part of a coalition promoting a SeeTheSigns.ca website and its resources to help people struggling through the current situation. Many Banff residents are thousands of miles away from their family and familiar support networks. The significant increase in cases and isolation requirements is forcing many to be alone. The campaign emphasizes there are many supports available in the Bow Valley.
The Town is also advocating to the Government of Alberta for more testing capacity, more vaccination clinics to get more boosters completed in Banff, more N95-type masks for our community, isolation facilities for people in shared accommodation who test positive, and we are examining contingency planning for our essential services because the Omicron variant is able to infect double-vaccinated employees like all Town of Banff staff.
The Town of Banff reports on AHS case data for the Banff region, links to wastewater testing for the COVID virus and other data, and all new requirements and resources at banff.ca/covid. The site also provides the most important current advice for residents and visitors to stop the spread and stay safe, such as:
- stay home if you feel sick
- get your vaccines and boosters as soon as you are eligible
- avoid large social gatherings, especially indoors where transmission is greater
- reduce your close contacts with people outside your immediate family
- wear a mask that is close-fitting and of the type currently recommended, when indoors in places where there are other people not in your immediate family
- closely follow safety requirements identified by businesses and organizations, such as REP proof of vaccine, masking and capacity limits
- be kind to others especially health care professionals, emergency and essential personnel, and hospitality workers implementing COVID measures
- prioritize outdoor activities to accesses important benefits for mental and physical health
- be cautions with activities and take additional steps to avoid needing hospital care or emergency services at this time of rising COVID rates and the risk to the health system
Alberta Health encourages safety awareness and additional precautions
Alberta’s medical and health leaders indicate the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 is very contagious and can infect vaccinated people. Although anecdotal information suggests the impact of the new variant is less severe on positive cases for those who are vaccinated, the data is not conclusive. What is known is that the high transmission rate will result in some people needing hospitalization, likely those not fully immunized, and we need to protect our health care system and emergency services.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health provided these comments in a news conference yesterday (from full Transcript):
- Wherever you go and whatever you do, you should anticipate that one or more people present in any location will likely be infectious with Omicron, even if they don’t have symptoms. Make decisions and take precautions based on that assumption and the knowledge that action now is critical to preserving our health care system in the coming month.
- We are currently facing a variant that is so infectious, and spreads so quickly, that individual case and contact management will not be effective.
- While we will continue to learn more about this variant, what we do know at this time is that the Omicron variant is spreading far more quickly than any variant we have ever experienced. With more people being infected – and in a very short time – that poses a significant potential threat to our health care system. Even though it seems that a smaller percentage of cases are requiring acute care, we can expect that with a greater number of people infected, that will soon translate into a greater number of people in hospital.
- What we can learn from (other countries that had Omicron sooner) is that while two doses of vaccine still provide good protection against severe outcomes, a third dose improves even more. In addition, a third dose provides much better protection against infection.
- I urge everyone to get their third dose as soon as possible with whatever vaccine is available to you… Getting every dose of vaccine you are eligible for is an important way to slow the growth of Omicron – and to mitigate the risk to our health-care system and to Albertans. It is also critically important to limit in-person contact with others and follow all measures currently in place.
- Our best defense right now is to keep our social interactions small because wherever COVID has the chance to spread, it will. We need to limit our gatherings or postpone them altogether.
- if you’re able to celebrate New Year’s Day outdoors, please do so. You may even find it to be a welcome relief from being cooped up indoors over the last week or so.
- (From Dec. 28) What is critical to understand is what to do if you have symptoms and a negative rapid test. Rapid tests are not as sensitive as PCR tests, which means that if you have symptoms, you should stay home and away from others until you feel better, even if you have multiple negative rapid tests. Please do not spend time with others if you are feeling sick, no matter what a rapid test result show.
For Banff residents experiencing challenges due to COVID issues such as need to isolate or access to important supplies, the Town continues to provide support services and referrals from its Help Desk at email@example.com and by phone during business hours at 403-762-1251. The Town is evaluating whether to increase services and is contacting local groceries and pharmacies to determine the status of their delivery services.
More information and resources:
Media information: Jason Darrah, Communications, 403.762.1207 or jason (dot) darrah (at) banff.ca