AHS focused on education in northern county under COVID-19 watch

Health officials say they’ve dedicated “significant focus” to education efforts in a county in northwest Alberta that remains under a COVID-19 watch.

Mackenzie County, which stretches to the province’s borders with British Columbia and Northwest Territories, had 46 active cases among its population of 24,171 people, according to Alberta Health data updated Wednesday. That puts its rate of active cases per 100,000 at 190.3

Alberta Health puts a region on “watch” when there are at least 10 active cases and there are more than 50 cases per 100,000 population. If cases in a given region escalate, authorities can decide to impose additional public health measures.  

The only other regions with watch status were Edmonton and Sturgeon County, with active cases of 571 and 16, respectively. Edmonton’s case rate was at 55.9, while Sturgeon County’s was at 57.2.

Mackenzie County is home to farmland, a number of small municipalities, such as High Level, La Crete, Fort Vermillion, and several Indigenous communities.

In an email, AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson said in addition to hosting two virtual town halls in May for La Crete’s residents and business community, letters were sent to La Crete residences encouraging people to comply with public health orders and to get tested for COVID19.

AHS environmental public health inspections are also ongoing at restaurants, grocery stores, gyms and other businesses. Williamson said while significant efforts have been made in Mackenzie County and La Crete, AHS tailors education and outreach to different communities as needed, and has run town halls in several regions across Alberta.

‘You can’t put life on hold’

Seven deaths had been attributed to COVID-19 in the county as of Wednesday, according to Alberta Health. 

In an interview Thursday morning, Mackenzie County Reeve Josh Knelson said everyday life in the region is largely normal, and while some people are taking precautions others aren’t.

“People here realize that bills must be paid, you can’t put life on hold, and you protect those that you can,” he said. 

He said he likes to think for himself, and is basing his opinions on what he has heard from people in his county who have experienced COVID-19.

Willliamson said the north zone’s medical officer of health has been engaging with municipal leaders in the county “to provide education, dispel rumours, and enhance messaging related to COVID 19 and the CMOH public health orders.”

North zone

On Thursday, Alberta Health listed several outbreaks in north zone, including at Heimstaed Seniors Lodge in La Crete, family gatherings in La Crete, at CNRL Albian in Fort Mackay, and at the It Is Time Canada prayer event in Deadwood, Alta.  

The faith-based gathering in the hamlet about 430 kilometres northwest of Edmonton resulted in positive COVID-19 cases for attendees from both Alberta and British Columbia, including a pastor who organized the event. Alberta Health is still investigating the event, but said 200 to 300 people are thought to have attended. 

While there are attendance caps for outdoor events such as weddings or festivals, outdoor religious events do not have such restrictions provided other public health measures are in place. 

Alberta Health spokesperson Sherene Khaw confirmed that some people who attended the It Is Time event also attended a local wedding, and that connections between the two events are still being investigated.

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