As one of Alberta’s COVID-19 hotspots, Banff calls for community-targeted immunization

The town of Banff has a footprint of just four square kilometres — and with the second-highest active COVID-19 case rate in Alberta, the pandemic is having an outsize impact on the mountain community.

Silvio Adamo, emergency management director for the town, said Banff is advocating for mass vaccination for residents as its largest demographic — those ages 18 to 40 — are currently left out of the province’s immunization rollout.

“It’s very concerning.… We are a small and tight-knit community, and we know that it can spread,” Adamo said.

Currently, there are 144 active COVID-19 cases in Banff and Lake Louise, which have a combined population of more than 13,000. That’s 1,070.5 cases for every 100,000 people. The region has seen a total of 701 cases. The majority of them are the B117 variant first identified in the U.K., and the P1 variant now associated with Brazil is also present. 

Of the town’s 80 isolation rooms, 50 are occupied.

Adamo said because many of Banff’s hospitality and service industry workers live communally, isolation is a challenge.

“There’s a significant amount of staff accommodation where people have to share cooking spaces and living spaces,” he said. 

Silvio Adamo, emergency management director for the Town of Banff. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Allison Harker, who lives in town, said the community is also dealing with a constant influx of tourists.

“As a community we’re fighting against the virus coming from all places in Alberta — it’s just not fair,” she said. 

For the third weekend in a row, Alberta Health Services has held pop-up COVID-19 testing sites, and pre-booked testing appointments are being made available at the town’s community health centre. 

Adamo said Banff has also taken its own measures, like being one of the few places in the country to require outdoor masking in high-density areas. 

But he said it’s still not enough.

“We’ve advocated to the province, and we continue to advocate for that mass vaccination of all of our demographics,” he said.

However, unlike B.C. and Ontario, Alberta is deploying vaccines by age and severity of health conditions instead of targeting “hot spots” — neighbourhoods or workplaces that have seen high infection rates. 

Alberta Health said in an emailed statement that the rollout will expand as supply increases.

“With limited supply and high active case rates in all regions of the province, we are focusing on those who are most at risk of severe outcomes,” an Alberta Health spokesperson said.

Jessia Arsenio, a community activist, said at this point he knows many people who have had COVID-19.

“We’re pleading with the provincial government to start vaccinations here, but we’re just not seeing it.… We’re going to have to ride it out and scrape together on our own.”

Banff MLA Miranda Rosin has spoken out against public health restrictions — a move that Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen said she was not consulted about. 

Adamo said it’s critical residents and visitors to Banff continue to follow restrictions like maintaining distance, wearing masks and not dining outside of their households.

“We also understand that many people consider coming to the mountains as essential for their mental health. If they do decide to come we just ask that they follow all of our rules and regulations,” he said.

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