New testing site to open in Calgary’s northeast, again hit hard by COVID-19

As Alberta’s active COVID-19 case rates reach an all-time high, northeast Calgary is home to the city’s highest concentration of infections

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As Alberta’s active COVID-19 case rates reach an all-time high in the pandemic’s third wave, northeast Calgary is again home to the city’s highest concentration of infections.

The high transmission rates have led Alberta Health Services to erect a pop-up COVID testing site in the area, opening Friday.

Upper northeast Calgary, which includes most communities east of Deerfoot Trail and north of 16th Avenue, has an active case rate of 695.9 cases per 100,000 residents, compared to the rate of 524.5 cases per 100,000 residents across Calgary as a whole.

Amanpreet Singh, president of the Dashmesh Culture Centre, which supports Calgary’s Sikh community, said the surge is putting significant strain on residents.

“There has been a huge impact. People are concerned about the third wave and they’re scared, especially seeing what’s happening in India,” said Singh, referencing the current COVID-19 outbreak that has decimated health-care systems in that country.

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“It has had a great impact on our seniors and our community.”

While the region’s rates are significantly below those seen in provincial hot spots including Fort McMurray and Banff, Calgary’s farthest northeast neighbourhoods continue to record infection rates above those seen elsewhere in the city. The city’s southeast and lower northeast also have high rates of infection.

The upper northeast also led Calgary in infections during much of the second wave, logging more than 1,300 active cases per 100,000 residents during its peak.

Ward 5 Coun. George Chahal represents many of those northeast communities. He said the factors that led to high case rates in the second wave, including a disproportionate amount of front-line workers and multi-generational households, continue to drive transmission in the third wave.

“Working in these sectors — distributions, logistics, trucking, grocery stores, nursing homes, and in our schools — they’re at a much higher risk of contracting COVID and coming in contact with members of the public,” Chahal said.

“They have to go to work to get paid and have food on the table for their families.”

Calgary City Councillor George Chahal speaks outside council chambers on Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018.
Calgary City Councillor George Chahal speaks outside council chambers on Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018. Photo by Gavin Young /Postmedia

AHS is opening a pop-up testing site in the community to help meet high demand for swabs in the area. Calgary has struggled with a testing backlog amid the third wave, with slots often only available four or more days in the future.

The walk-up site, in the McKnight-Westwinds LRT parking lot, will complete testing for people with COVID-19 and close contacts of confirmed cases from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. At its launch, the site will process about 500 tests per day, scaling to 2,000 daily swabs.

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Chahal said the targeted approach is valuable, as many front-line workers in the community can’t afford long waits for tests.

He said targeting rapid testing in northeast schools and workplaces and directing vaccine to hot spots could also help beat back case rates.

Singh agreed the province needs to provide more access to vaccines in the northeast, focusing specifically on reaching groups who do not speak English as their first language.

Volunteers with the Dashmesh Culture Centre have been fielding inquiries from community members eager to get their shot but unsure how to do so, helping them book appointments, Singh said.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Thursday that while he is happy about the new testing site, he isn’t advocating for geographically targeted measures.

He said this is because the third wave is having a broad impact on the city that extends beyond one quadrant.

“What I want people to really understand is, with these variants, it’s not just a northeast Calgary thing anymore,” Nenshi said.

“The entire city is above threshold,” the mayor added, saying per-capita rates of infection exceed those recorded in India.

Nenshi said the pandemic has been devastating in his own northeast community.

“In my neighbourhood, I don’t think there’s a single person who doesn’t know anyone who didn’t die of COVID,” Nenshi said. “There certainly isn’t a single family who has not been impacted by it in a very bad way.”

jherring@postmedia.com

Twitter: @jasonfherring

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