COCHRANE— A spike in active COVID-19 cases has pushed the Town of Cochrane into the province's Enhanced Status under the Alberta Relaunch Strategy.
MLA Airdrie-Cochrane Peter Guthrie said it was not a surprise to see the Town move back into an Enhanced Status.
“Cochrane itself has been doing a good job at keeping the numbers down. But, there’s just been such a sharp escalation across the province with cases," Guthrie said. "I thought it was inevitable that eventually, we were going to climb up into Enhanced."
There are three levels of COVID-19 status in Alberta regions defined by Alberta Health Services— Open Status which is low risk, Watch Status where the province monitors the risk in an area that has between 10 and 50 cases per 100,000 people, and Enhanced Status where additional restrictions are put in place.
Cochrane is sitting at 24 active COVID-19 cases, or 72 cases per 100,000 as of Thursday (Nov. 19).
The biggest issue in terms of COVID-19 spread has been social gatherings, Guthrie said, explaining between 40 and 50 per cent of cases have been traced back to home get-togethers.
“We have to be diligent,” Guthrie said. “To be able to reduce these numbers as far as through social gatherings at homes it would go a long way to being able to stop another level of restrictions coming forward.”
Guthrie said Alberta Premier Jason Kenny has been able to provide moderate restrictions by driving home the message that curbing the spread of the virus is the personal responsibility of every Albertan.
He added he is not supportive of a full lockdown in the economy because the contract tracing results indicate restaurants, small businesses and pubs are not the main source of spread. Some of the main causes of COVID-19 transmission are gatherings at home, competitive amateur sports and group fitness.
“Those were the ones that were showing a lot of spread,” Guthrie said. “That’s why we're doing this in a more targeted fashion this time then versus last time.”
The province is trying to avoid a full lockdown by taking a regionally balanced approach.
"It’s a difficult situation and I can feel the stress in the people that I’m speaking to in the community,” Guthrie said. “Government is being pulled in all directions. For each person that you're speaking to that wants to close down, there’s another one that’s adamant we should not.”
The sudden spike in active COVID-19 cases across the province is alarming, Guthrie said, but the important number informing government decisions are patients who are hospitalized or admitted into intensive care units. If these numbers continue to rise over the coming weeks the province may be forced to create additional and more stringent health measures to help limit the spread of COVID-19.
“Hopefully we can flatten this out and not go to the next stage,” Guthrie said.
He explained that it is critical to flatten the curve to ensure the Alberta Health care system is not overwhelmed. All public health measure decisions are based on the needs of the health care system under advice from Alberta Health Services.
“Our health system under normal conditions, pre-COVID, in the main centres, our hospitals operate between 95 and 105 per cent capacity,” Guthrie said. “The fact of the matter is COVID has come along, and you already have a system that’s operating in that zone that 95 to 105 percent, you add that in and increase the capacity of that hospital another 15 to 20 per cent now your operating 112 to 120 per cent— That’s where the problem lies.”
Mandatory and voluntary health measures are in place during COVID-19, but additional protocols will be in place while the Town is an Enhanced Status, said deputy director of the Cochrane Emergency Coordination Centre and interim fire chief Shawn Polley.
Cochrane had initially dropped down to Watch Status on Thursday (Nov. 12), Polley said, but was moved up to Enhanced Status on Monday (Nov. 16).
“I suspect that we’ll go that pop-up and down for the next little while,” Polley said. “I know our citizens are doing a great job of monitoring their social gathering and with the mask bylaw— Citizens are taking that extra level of safety and that is quite helpful.”
Under the Enhanced Status restaurants, lounges, bars and pubs must stop serving liquor sales at 10 p.m. and close by 11 p.m. There is a 15-person limit on social public gatherings, a 50-person limit on indoor and outdoor weddings and funerals, and faith-based gatherings will be limited to a third of regular full attendance numbers.
Polley added they are encouraging residents to keep their cohort group to three to help prevent the spread— This can include the core household, school and one other sport or social cohort.
“We’re looking at our citizens and visitors to help support us through those voluntary measures to keep our numbers down,” Polley said.
The rise in COVID-19 cases is concerning, Polley said, but residents and local businesses are doing a great job in following public health measures that can help flatten the curve. He noted the mask bylaw has really helped by adding consistency and continuity in protocols.
“When we look back over the last seven months we were quite concerned when we saw numbers of 30 and 40. Now we’re seeing numbers of 800, 900 a 1000 positive cases,” Polley said. “I think it's important that we carry on with our preventative measures, our mandatory measures and of course our voluntary measures to help keep COVID at bay and keep it in its place.”
COVID-19 will be with us for a “long period of time,” and all residents can play a role in flattening the curve by adhering to both recommended and voluntary measures.
He said it remains good practice to wash your hands, wear a mask when in public and maintain physical distancing to help prevent the spread of the virus.
Polley said COVID-19 is having an impact on the mental health of residents, noting Cochrane Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) has programs that offer aid.
“Mental health is such an important piece of our ongoing response and recovery,” Polley said. “I would strongly recommend that if there are challenges to reach out to your local provider and head over to the Town website for any type of support through our FCSS group.”
For those seeking support call Cochrane Family and Community Support Services at 403-851-2250.
This article has been updated to include the most recent COVID-19 statistics available from the Province of Alberta.