Reduction in hospital-based services not anticipated, says local doctor

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Doctors in some rural Alberta communities are choosing to reduce their hospital-based services, but one local doctor doesn’t anticipate that he or his Hinton colleagues would take the same steps.

Rural doctors in several communities had provided notice they will reduce services in response to changes to the Rural and Remote Northern Program (RRNP) announced by Health Minister Tyler Shandro in March.

“We want to be there for our patients, and we sincerely hope the government’s decisions around rural health services will allow us to do so,” said Noel Corser, one of Hinton’s local physicians.

Back in the fall of 2019, Premier Jason Kenney passed legislation giving the provincial government power to end a negotiated master agreement with the Alberta Medical Association representing doctors. Shandro ended those negotiations in 2020 and introduced fee changes and a cap on the RRNP in March, which was since reversed.

An April 24 news release from the provincial government read that, effective immediately, the $60,000 cap on the RRNP will be abolished. Reversing the changes made in March will allow rural doctors to charge for overhead while working in government-run facilities, says the province. 

The release added that medical liability rates for all rural physicians, including obstetrics, will be frozen at $1,000. 

On-call rates for all rural physicians will range from $20 per hour to $23 per hour, increasing payments to more than 1,500 physicians who are on call in rural Alberta.

The RRNP defines the degree of medical isolation for physicians in rural, remote and northern Alberta communities and provides financial incentives for physicians to live and practice in rural remote and northern areas of the province, according to Alberta’s Medical Association.

The changes made in March resulted in doctors from numerous rural areas announcing they would no longer be working in emergency rooms or delivering babies.

The RRNP compensates physicians who practice in under-serviced areas in Alberta.

A flat fee payment is paid to physicians who practice and reside in an eligible community, and variable fee premium is paid to physicians who provide services in an eligible community, whether or not they reside in an eligible community.

Internationally recognized clinical researcher Dr. Lee Green has been contracted to provide advice on how to modernize alternative compensation models for physicians working in community-based primary care practice. 

There are currently about 1,000 rural physicians practising in Alberta.

Local businesses not in bad shape, says CFWY

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

COVID-19 Business Impact Survey to help aid businesses in recovery

Based on the results of a survey by Community Futures West Yellowhead (CFWY) in the fourth week of the COVID-19 crisis, Hinton was in relatively good shape compared to other communities.

“Hinton is in a very healthy situation in that they’re able to work virtually and [there are] a lot of innovative business ideas coming out. People are changing their business models really well to adapt,” said Nancy Robbins, CFWY general manager.

The reality for people in Hinton is that they want to reopen their businesses and let customers in, Robbins added.

“The uncertainty is really hard for a lot of people and really stressful for all of us,” she said.

Out of 81 businesses surveyed in Hinton, 32.10 per cent stated they were temporarily closed, while 25.93 per cent had business running as usual in the first week of April. The majority of businesses or 40.74 per cent were closed to the public but operating in a different way to continue serving clients.

Business owners are trying to figure out an answer for their business and the employees that count on them.

Other communities included in the survey were Edson, Grande Cache, Jasper, and Yellowhead County. Together with its regional partners, CFWY surveyed 220 businesses throughout West Yellowhead four weeks after the provincial declaration of a State of Emergency on March 17, 2020. Now in week seven of the crisis, CFWY is using the results from the survey to work on a recovery plan.

Robbins said the biggest immediate focus is on financial issues that local businesses are having. Twenty businesses in the survey said they would need loans or financial support immediately in the COVID-19 crisis, and 16 others said they need immediate help with cash flow or operational obligations.

CFWY is spreading awareness of benefits each business can apply for through the provincial government.

Seven businesses said they need help with communication on COVID-19 and another four stated government support was necessary through financial programming. Based on the survey results, CFWY created a COVID-19 Recovery page on their website, where businesses can find tools in specific areas including coaching, training, financial information, health and safety, human resources, and marketing.

“Community Futures has been mentioned by the prime minister as being able to help people that aren’t eligible for benefits,” Robbins said.

CFWY is finalizing a loan package that will be available for businesses and match what Community Futures offices across the country offer.

“We want to be able to offer tools and products that people can take and use in their business,” Robbins said.

To re-open businesses after the COVID-19 crisis is over, businesses said they need financial support and business support, marketing tools, health and safety protocols post-COVID-19, and tools to attract and retain employees.

The response from Community Futures is gradually moving from the immediate response of helping people to looking at tools businesses need to operate.

Scott Kovatch, economic development officer of the Town of Hinton, said the survey is a crucial document in understanding the business climate and immediate needs of the local business community. 

“In reviewing, the results appear to be fairly similar to those found in the rest of the province, reiterating the idea that we are all in this together,” he stated.

Natalie Charlton, executive director of the Hinton & District Chamber of Commerce said she felt that Hinton responded fairly positively in comparison to other communities, though there were some red flags in the results.

Even though Hinton is tourism-centered, the community of Hinton still has many businesses that are able to conduct business through COVID-19 compared to tourism communities like Jasper, Charlton observed.

“It is going to be very difficult, businesses have had to learn how to navigate through something that’s very uncertain and there definitely are some concerns,” Charlton said.

Being on lockdown as the province heads into tourism season will have a huge impact on hotels and other tourism-related businesses. Revenue from the next five to six months is what carries some of these businesses through the following five to six months, Charlton added.

Charlton also pointed out that retail businesses just weathered the two months difficult months of the year for retail sales when COVID-19 hit.

Some business owners have laid off staff in order to reduce their costs.

Fifty-nine of the businesses in the survey had already laid off staff either permanently, temporarily, or for medical reasons, which totalled to 273 layoffs locally in the fourth week of this crisis.

“Sometimes when you have to lay off your staff, they relocate out of your town or move on to something else, there is always the concern of not getting your staff back,” Charlton said.

Compared to  2019, revenue during the COVID-19 crisis has decreased by an average of 60 per cent across the businesses surveyed.

Businesses said cash flow, loss of revenue, and paying rent were some of the top challenges during COVID-19 crisis.

Top concerns about reopening after COVID-19 included the lack of tourism, finding enough employees, and the length of closures due to the crisis.

“I don’t think that people are just going to return to normal, I think it’s going to take some time and there’s probably going to be some precautions that will be implemented,” Charlton commented.

CFWY’s health and safety business advisor is working on cleaning protocols and things to keep businesses safe for staff and clients, Robbins said.

Safety, health, and not having enough revenue to pay staff were all main concerns for staff and employee retention.

Chalrton added that the survey from Community Futures serves as a great tool for the community, “It gives us an overall feel of the community and how they’re making it through the crisis.”

Kovatch added that information regarding the status of business operations, employment levels, and change in sales is important in understanding the needs of businesses. 

Organizations like the Town of Hinton can use information from the survey to strategize, support, and plan recovery needs moving forward. 

“The Town’s Development Services staff are currently reaching out directly to the business community speaking with them gathering information that will help develop an Economic Recovery Support response as well,” said Kovatch.

To view the CFWY COVID-19 recovery package for local businesses, head to

Crime stats drop over past month

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Hinton RCMP Staff Sgt, Chris Murphy anticipates an increase in theft related calls, but says there has actually been reduction in reported crime over the last month.

Murphy added that on top of pressures from COVID-19, the community is also dealing with the downturn in the economy right now.

“Through experience I can tell you that, yes, we normally see an increase of certain types of crimes [during a downturn]. A lot of the time it’s property-related type crimes,” Murphy said.

In times of stress and uncertainty, RCMP members have to be prepared to respond and work with the community to address crimes as they increase.

Murphy stated that other communities have seen an increase in some crimes, and that Hinton won’t be exempt.

“We as police can’t do this alone, we rely heavily on all these other agencies that provide support, we also rely on the residents and the community members to continue working with us and continue calling in those suspicious people and suspicious vehicles,” Murphy said.

According to the statistics, numbers of calls about suspicious people and vehicles have continued to increase, which is a good sign of the community’s engagement and integral to allow RCMP members to respond quickly.

The reason the RCMP hasn’t seen reported crimes climb yet may be due to people being at home more than normally, Murphy explained.

There are less places unattended, while on the other hand more businesses who have now closed are more exposed.

“In those areas where a lot of businesses had to close their doors, we’ve increased patrols in those areas as well,” Murphy said.

A few small spikes in crimes were seen recently in theft of motor vehicles and shoplifting, something the RCMP continues to monitor.

It’s too early to tell if this is a new trend, but Murphy said these two areas were slightly higher compared to 2019 and 2018.

Another area the RCMP continues to focus on are mental health complaints and family disturbance type calls.

“There were specific days within the last month where we responded to a large number of these complaints but overall if you look comparatively in a month setting, the number is actually not any higher,” said Murphy.

The RCMP works together with numerous agencies that offer support within the community on these calls.

Murphy is promoting steps residents can take to make their properties less appealing for any criminal element.

A push through the entire organization is a focus on locks, lighting, and landscaping, Murphy said, which means locking property, lighting around the property, and using gates or fences around the property to deter any criminal activity. 

“People are spending more time at home and they have that ability to look around their own house to see if there are any areas where they can make some improvements to make it a little less appealing for the criminal element,” Murphy said.

The RCMP remains fully operational, responsive and committed to the community, he added.

No changes have been made to respond to emergency calls for service, besides health and personal protective equipment (PPE) measures.

“If someone is experiencing an emergency, we’ll be there, we’ll respond,” assured Murphy.

The amount of PPE accessible to each member has increased as well as guidelines on cleaning inside police vehicles and the detachment.

Traffic into the detachment has also been limited.

“We still have a very important role to play and we still have to be prepared and able to respond to these situations,” Murphy said.

Safe distancing is promoted amongst officers, but there are times where police officers have to go within two metres to arrest somebody or help somebody.

In those situations, members take steps to protect themselves and others by wearing the appropriate PPE, Murphy said.

Vehicle stops may be reduced but officers will continue to stop anyone that is putting themselves or others at risk.

“There’s certain steps that we have taken to limit any type of exposure and that’s through PPE and our approach to the vehicle and what we’re going to do,” Murphy said.

No tickets for COVID-19 regulations have been issued throughout Alberta, according to the statistics up until April 21.

Hinton RCMP has responded to several calls for assistance with Alberta Health Services (AHS), for self isolation checks or self quarantine checks on individuals. 

The RCMP is promoting the education component of the new regulations and hope to avoid issuing tickets.

Between April 15 and April 21, Alberta RCMP received 55 COVID-19 related calls for service, and completed 19 mandatory quarantine checks, which are federal quarantine orders separate from AHS.

Hinton says goodbye to a forestry ‘pioneer’

Tyler Waugh

A former longtime resident of Hinton is being remembered as a pioneer of the forestry industry and a champion of outdoor recreation after passing away in Calgary last week.

Jack Wright first arrived in Hinton with wife Margaret in 1957 to work in the forestry department of Northwest Pulp and Power Ltd.

He was promoted to chief forester in 1975 and retired in 1987.

In those 30 years he is credited with establishing forestry philosophies and practices that endure today.

“He was instrumental in setting up the forest inventory and forest management programs at Hinton in the early days that set the gold standard for management planning and forest management across Canada,” said Bob Udell, who worked, volunteered and performed with Wright in Hinton over the years.

“He was a tireless and fearless spokesperson for the company, the industry and forestry in general.”

After his retirement Wright continued his involvement as a member of the Forest Resources Advisory Committee for another 27 years until leaving Hinton in 2016.

Richard Briand, chief forester for West Fraser in Alberta, said Wright’s ongoing legacy is one of long-term focus, policy development based on research and science, as well as frugal spending and innovative solutions.

“Also don’t be afraid to be the first to do something if you know it needs to be done,” Briand added.

Wright was raised in Pembroke, Ontario, where Udell said he first developed a love of the outdoors.

Wright spent countless hours working on local ski trails – particularly the Camp 29 trails – brushing, grooming and track setting with the help of the company who kept the road plowed, and provided him an old double track to do the job.

For many years he also kept the Wild Sculpture Trail in shape by brushing and clearing deadfall.

“These trails were part of his legacy, as he started the recreation program at NWP&P. He was also very active in the Friends of Switzer Park.,” Udell shared.

Udell added that both Jack and Marg were active in the arts community of Hinton. Marg taught piano for many years as well as leading the community band and seniors’ choir.

“Jack played cornet in the band and he and Marg sang in a number of choirs over the years,” Udell said.

Jack Wright passed away April 22 in Calgary. He was 89. Those who wish to honour his life are asked to please consider a donation to The Friends
of Switzer Park.

Camping options restricted until after May long weekend

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Many Albertans may have been looking forward to their first chance to camp this year, but will be waiting until after the May long weekend to find an open government campground due to COVID-19.

Alberta Parks announced that all camping reservations have been suspended and refunded until after the May long weekend, and 15 campgrounds run by the Foothills Recreation Management Association (FRMA) are all following the same regulations as the province.

“Unfortunately, you can expect these measures to be in place until after the May long weekend,” said Jess Sinclair, press secretary of the minister of Environment and Parks.

A release by Alberta Parks stated that the suspension is in place until the province’s chief medical officer of health is confident the health and public safety risk from COVID-19 is reduced.

All camping facilities within national parks including backcountry camping, oTENTiks, and other roofed accommodations are closed until further notice.

Parks Canada will not be taking new reservations until at least June 1, and existing reservations set to take place prior to May 31 will be automatically cancelled and refunded in full.

Parks Canada is also calling Canadians to stay home.

“We do monitor sites to see if there’s issues, but we haven’t had the kind of issues that Banff has had in any way, shape, or form,” said Steve Young from Jasper National Park, referring to the fact that visitors continued to drive into Banff on Easter weekend despite recommendations against doing so.

While no tickets have been issued to anyone in Jasper National Park, Young added that they will act if there are cases of noncompliance with health safety regulations.

Campgrounds owned by the Town of Hinton have not yet reopened for the season, but normally open each year in early to mid- May.

The Town will be making a decision on how to handle campgrounds in the next two weeks, said Josh Yaworski, public information officer of Hinton’s Emergency Operations Centre (EOC).

Campground bookings through Yellowhead County have been postponed, but the county will re-evaluate May 1 and see what the likelihood is of opening campgrounds for June.

Customers can no longer access the online reservation system and Alberta Parks will notify customers with existing reservations up to May 19 by email.

Paid fees will be refunded but Alberta Parks stated that refunds may occur in multiple transactions over a two week time frame.

“For example, reservation or change fees may be refunded separately from camping fees,” Alberta Parks stated in a release.

Cancellations after May 19 will be announced in the future as the government continues to assess the pandemic.

There are no open facilities like washrooms or showers at provincial parks and there is no access by motor vehicles, including to staging areas and parking lots. Services such as power, water, sewage, garbage collection is also not available and a fire ban is in place.

People can still access parks via walk in, cycling or being dropped off and picked up, but the provincial government is encouraging people to not visit parks at this time.

Conservation officers are monitoring provincial parks for compliance through routine patrols.

“It is our desire not to be heavy-handed, so we are undertaking an education and awareness approach at this time, but we will need to take a more assertive approach as the weather warms,” said Sinclair.

Enforcement staff have full authority to address any circumstance of what might be deemed to be contravening the current public health orders.

Sinclair added that parks can hopefully reopen later this summer to welcome back campers.

Commercial campgrounds like Kampgrounds of America (KOA) are still open and taking reservations.

Signage and training is implemented for hand washing for campers and staff.

Campgrounds are increasing cleaning and disinfecting protocols in their various lodging options after campers depart and before the campers arrive.

Cleaning and disinfecting in public spaces has also increased.

Random camping is also allowed, but participants are subject to physical distancing measures to off-highway vehicle and fire fans in the Forest Protection Area around Hinton.

The fire ban ensures the province can effectively focus resources where they are needed most in the event of multiple emergencies happening at the same time during the pandemic.

The greatest threat of wildfires occurs throughout late April and May due to snow melt when fuel like trees and grasses have extremely low moisture content.

HGC outlook remains positive, despite COVID-19

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Despite current regulations that are keeping eager golfers home, the new director of the Hinton Golf Club is feeling positive and ready to take on the challenge.

While there has been no official announcement about when golf courses in Alberta may be allowed to open to the public, Kyle Crawford is aiming to have the grounds prepped for an opening date of June 1. 

Crawford said that groups like the Alberta Golf, Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) of Canada and PGA Alberta are trying to work with the government to get golf deemed an essential recreation sport.

Bruce McAllister, spokesperson of Alberta Golf, said they are confident that the Alberta government will be announcing a relaunch of the economy this week and that golf will be a part of the strategy.

“We know we can safely social distance and play golf. We have developed the most thorough and thoughtful new protocol for golf courses to follow when they open. Golf is great for your physical and mental health, and during this COVID-19 Pandemic, we are all recognizing the importance of our mental health. We are excited to be part of the solution and are hopeful that AB golf courses, like those in BC and the USA, will be open soon,” said McAllister.

If they open, Crawford said the Hinton Golf Club would operate under strict guidelines to ensure golfers can maintain their distance from each other and limit their points of contact.

“I am a true believer that golf really is one of the only sports where we can actually follow the guidelines to a tee, versus some other recreational sports like at a pool or skating,” Crawford said.

Golf courses in BC will be open on May 1, while Saskatchewan is following close behind with an opening date of May 15.

“We’re planning to be safe. We’re aiming for a June 1 start on the assumption that things are going to get better here in a few weeks and we’re going to be able to rock and roll,” Crawford said.

Golf courses in Alberta typically open anywhere in the month of April depending on the weather. Even without a pandemic this year, the Hinton course would have had a later start date due to the snow sticking around longer this spring.

“I guess if you’re going to have a pandemic, it might as well be in the year that you were going to open late anyway,” Crawford commented.

Work on the grounds hadn’t started yet on April 24 because crews were waiting for conditions to dry up first. Even if the course won’t be allowed to open all summer, Crawford said grounds staff will still have minimum maintenance to protect the asset and ensure it is in good shape for the 2021 season.

In early March, the club hired all the necessary staff to operate the course throughout the summer, but they are currently on hold.

While the club won’t be able to offer any sit-down food service, Crawford said there will still be a food and beverage component in the form of a seven-day beverage cart service or a halfway house that sells alcohol and food.

Staff is setting up an online prepay system, allowing customers to pay for their tee time ahead of time to avoid the exchange of cash or close contact to the staff member in the Pro Shop. 

Unless golfers are from the same household, they must each take a separate power cart to ensure social distancing, Crawford explained as part of the new rules. Only every other stall at the driving range will be set up for use to increase spacing.

Items like baskets, pull carts, and power carts will be disinfected after every use. 

“We have to make sure what we’re doing is still following the guidelines, we’re doing it in the most efficient manner and that’s solely to create as much profit and revenue as possible by the end of the year,” Crawford said.

The pandemic would have caused a major setback but Crawford is positive that with some major changes and the support of the community that the Hinton Golf Club will pull through.

Since Crawford started working at the club in mid-February, he has put everything into making sure the golf course would be successful this year. Big changes included running the restaurant themselves, instead of through a contractor.

“One of the biggest things that I see why Hinton golf club has struggled in the last couple of years is that they weren’t catering to the people of Hinton,” he added.

He stated that the course was attempting to cater to tourists while they struggled through the past several years. Crawford worked to restructure the rates, allowing residents of Hinton to play the course and not feel like it’s overpriced.

All the rates have dropped and different golf packages will be introduced this year, though memberships will remain the same to stay in line with members who already paid at the end of 2019.

Crawford added that memberships are geared towards 40 rounds, but said that staff will be more involved in helping customers pick a membership package that works for them.

“At the end of the day, I’m here to add value to the customer. And if that customer doesn’t come to our property and feel like they got a value for playing, then we failed,” Crawford said

Before coming to Hinton, Crawford, worked for the Radium Golf Group, which was in a similar financial situation as Hinton’s Golf Club, he said. Taking what he has learned from 20 years in the golf business, he plans to create a friendlier environment at the Hinton Golf Club, with more engaged staff and an added level of service.

“I started here on Feb. 17 and I worked for 38 straight days just on the sole purpose that if this golf course fails, I fail, and I don’t like failing. I will do whatever I have to do in order to make this golf course successful,” Crawford said.

He added that while people may be concerned that the club won’t survive, he wants to assure residents that the club isn’t going anywhere despite the circumstances.

“We’re going to strive to make this golf course very special for the people of Hinton,” he said.

Hinton greenhouse opens for the season

A look inside one of the greenhouses where community members can grow and tend to their own plants taken in 2019.

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

The Hinton Community Greenhouse (HCGH) has officially opened for the season and released a set of guidelines and protocols to keep its members safe.

“As an essential service, this is something that is considered to be worth the risk to continue operating under strict safety and cleaning protocols. The plan prepared by the Greenhouse and submitted to the emergency operating centre (EOC) was deemed to be not just adequate, but detailed and executed in such a way to resolve our main concerns,” stated Josh Yaworski, EOC public informations officer.

Under agriculture and horticulture of Alberta’s essential services list, services that harvest, produce and distribute food are essential.

Hinton’s community garden society has two greenhouses, plus outdoor space available for members to use.

Guidelines and protocols have been put in place to keep everyone safe when utilizing the space.

“We are fortunate to have a doctor on the board, she did a lot of work on figuring out what the garden needs to do in order to make it a safe space,” said Brittany Taylor, president of the society.

Sign in and out sheets are used to track who uses the space, but Taylor added that some improvements are necessary to make people aware that they are required to sign in.

“We need to make people aware that they need to sign in and follow these rules and not be complacent,” she said.

Tools and watering cans are not shared amongst gardeners and the use of gloves is necessary when handling hoses and nozzles.

Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms cannot enter the greenhouses and a board member or HCGS member will ensure that plots are taken care of while someone is in self-isolation or quarantine.

Only four gardeners can be in a greenhouse at a time, and others must wait in their vehicles if there are too many people already on site.

Only one gardener is allowed at a time for their own plots, which means one person per household.

Hand sanitizing stations are available at entrances of each greenhouse, which are mandatory upon entry and exit.

The use of masks while in the greenhouse are also encouraged.

Bylaw officers will come by to patrol but Taylor hopes members apply the honour system and follow the regulations.

If members are not following the rules, the society does have the option to revoke somebody’s membership.

“That would be pretty severe but at least we could protect other members if it’s something we need to do,” Taylor said.

It’s important for the greenhouse to be open due to the short growing season in Alberta, Taylor added.

Some members have also grown perennials in previous years that they now need to tend to.

Garlic plants starting to grow this season.

“The growing season here is really short, it’s very challenging to grow stuff successfully, especially outdoors. Being able to open right now is really helpful,” Taylor said.

The society donates plots to the food bank each year where they can grow produce for their organization.

The HCGH also provides a box at the greenhouse where members can donate any of their own produce to the food bank.

“We do help out more than just our members, we are pretty essential in providing local fresh organic produce,” Taylor added.

This year, HCGH has 43 members, 38 of these members are returning from last year. 

Last year, a lot of people signed up in May, and Taylor predicts they will likely see some more new members this year.

HCGH has a total of 227 plots, 36 plots are still available in the greenhouse and 20 outdoor plots are available.

There are still plots available, for information on prices and how to sign up go to

New COVID-19 measures for long term facilities

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

New measures affecting both long term care facilities and residential addiction centres were announced on April 29 by Alberta’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

Added measures in long term care facilities now include testing anyone with mild symptoms to better control spread and workers must now wear eye protection along with other personal protective equipment.

Seven more deaths were announced on April 29, six of which took place in the same long term care facility in Calgary.

“This sad news is not a reflection of the work that has gone into managing this outbreak at this site where my local colleagues told me the site responded promptly, created a isolation ward and worked hard to prevent the spread. Despite this, this shows the power of this virus in a closed environment,” said Hinshaw.

However, preventive measures to protect long term facility residents have had negative effects on the quality of the resident’s lives, said Hinshaw.

In order to improve residents’ quality of life, residents not in isolation will be allowed to enjoy outdoor visits with a designated essential visitor and one other person. 

New orders also allow visitors to be with loved ones who are dying as long as physical distancing is possible, allowing two visitors at a time.

Residential addiction centres also have new measures, including allowing group therapy and shorter treatments to overcome addictions.

Hinshaw spoke about the provincial outbreak strategy during the provincial update on April 29.

The outbreak strategy includes prevention and preparedness, rapid response and timely notification, and outbreak management.

Rapid response includes early testing to prevent the spread of the virus, and outbreak management includes identifying all cases and individuals with symptoms, testing those exposed, and understanding the likely source and how the virus is being spread.

On April 28, the province released a new “low” modelling scenario estimating 298 Albertans will require hospitalization and 95 will require critical care when the virus reaches its peak. 

New modelling shows new ‘low,’ ‘probable,’ and ‘elevated’ scenarios of the pandemic.

If current trends continue, this scenario will become the most likely scenario for Alberta, stated Premier Jason Kenney during the update.

Similar to the original models released by Alberta Health Services (AHS), updated modelling scenarios estimate that Alberta’s outbreak will reach its peak in late May. 

Albertans hospitalized at the peak of the virus will be less than originally estimated. 

“This reflects Alberta’s experience over the past few weeks and the proportion of cases actually entering hospital and intensive care units,” stated a provincial press release.

The new probable model now estimates 596 people in Alberta will require hospitalization, with 190 requiring critical care on the days when the virus reaches its peak. 

Since Alberta Health has scaled up the capacity of the province’s health-care system, it is prepared to support patients at the peak of the pandemic in any scenario.

Following an announcement on April 23 from the Calgary Stampede that they were cancelling their annual summer events, Hinshaw confirmed that gathering restrictions currently in place also apply to all one-time or annual summer events, including arts and culture festivals, agricultural fairs and rodeos, major sporting championships and industry conferences.

The orders in place prohibit gatherings of 15 or more people and require individuals to maintain a distance of two metres from one another.

Hinshaw said the mass gathering rule would be reassessed in the fall, but wouldn’t say exactly when.

Shortly after this announcement, Wild Mountain Music Society Board of Directors announced the cancellation of the 2020 Wild Mountain Music Festival.

By clarifying these restrictions now, event organizers will be able to provide advance notice of 60 days or more that may help them limit unrecoverable expenditures, and cancel contracts in a timely manner, said Hinshaw.

These restrictions will continue to apply until evidence demonstrates that the spread is controlled.

Additional supports have been announced over the past week, including the new Site Rehabilitation Program and the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program.

The Site Rehabilitation Program is mainly funded by the federal government’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan and will provide grants to oilfield service contractors to perform well, pipeline, and oil and gas site reclamation work. 

This program is expected to create about 5,300 direct jobs and lead to the cleanup of thousands of sites, stated a provincial press release.

The CECRA program will provide small businesses 50 per cent of monthly commercial rental costs. 

Eligible landlords and tenants would each be responsible for 25 per cent of the remaining costs.

Zero COVID-19 related tickets issued in Hinton

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

No COVID-19 related tickets have been issued in Hinton since April 9 when parameters to support the Local State of Emergency (SOLE) became enforceable.

The Town of Hinton gave its residents a grace period of seven days from the time a SOLE was declared until restrictions and safety measures were enforceable.

Level one and two Peace Officers of the Protective Services Division under the Public Health Act or Emergency Management Act, as well as RCMP via the Municipal Bylaw Enforcement parameters or the provincial restrictions can issue tickets for noncompliance of the COVID-19 measures.

“Community response has been mostly positive and collaborative, with some questions for further information,” stated Josh Yaworski, public information officer of Hinton’s Emergency Operations Centre (EOC).

Beyond the town website, social media, print ads, posted signage, and infographic distribution to educate the public, Peace Officers have been engaged in community monitoring and patrols.

During the grace period following the declaration of SOLE, peace officers spoke to residents and businesses about the new measures.

All essential services, which are directly impacted by the new measures, received a letter with detailed parameters of restrictions that would impact their business. 

Yaworski added that this education is continuing, with enforcement actions occurring only in areas of flagrant defiance or intentional disobedience rather than misinterpretation based on officer discretion.

Yaworski also added that off leash areas for pets are recommended to be on-leash, but are not a parameter of the SOLE.

The Town of Hinton did not respond before The Voice deadline on which other restrictions are considered recommendations.

Alberta has 70 hospitalizations, as of April 22

Graph from the Government of Alberta website shows numbers of current COVID-19 patients in hospitals– ICU, and non-ICU

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

COVID-19 still a serious threat despite low hospitalizations, says Premier

The good news for Albertans is that while the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has risen recently, it is still well below the projected modelling released two weeks ago by Alberta Health Services.

The bad news is that, while it may be tempting to think the problem has gone away because the numbers are well below projections, Dr. Deena Hinshaw warned that the virus still needs to be taken seriously.

Premier Jason Kenney reiterated those sentiments, stating that the speed at which the province can reasonably look to get the economy going again will depend on how diligent Albertans are with precautions.

“If we stay vigilant, and disciplined about practicing rigorous personal hygiene and staying home as much as possible and maintaining physical distancing, wearing a face covering in all crowded spaces and observing all the public health orders, we’ll be able to look at cautiously restarting the economy,” said Premier Kenney.

Alberta has 70 hospitalizations due to the virus, with 18 in the intensive care unit according to the latest update  April 22.

Alberta continues to send medical equipment to harder-hit provinces like Quebec who currently have over 1300 patients in hospital and over 200 in intensive care.

This week the province will send 25 ventilators to Quebec to areas where they are most needed.

Kenney said Quebec is about three weeks ahead of Alberta’s curve and equipment will be returned to Alberta once they are past that curve. Alberta has hundreds more ventilators than the province expects to need even at the peak of the pandemic.

“We currently have about 600 ventilators on hand, and on any given day, about a hundred people, both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 related patients are using ventilators,” said Kenney.

There was also a call for volunteers and an announcement of a new tool, Alberta Cares Connector, to connect Albertans with volunteer opportunities.

The Northern Lights Volunteer Awards was also launched by the province, to honour everyday heroes in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Honourees will be nominated by fellow Albertans and selected for profiling on the program’s website and through social media.

There are no requirements for hours of service, and any individual or group who helps out in their community is eligible for an award. Nominations will be accepted online on an ongoing basis and require a brief story about the nominee’s contribution.

In other government updates this week, Health Minister Tyler Shandro stated April 20 that continuing care facilities have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic across the country. About half of deaths in Canada due to COVID-19 are occuring in continuing care facilities and 330 cases have been reported in these facilities in Alberta.

New funding was announced for continuing care for increased health-care aide staffing levels, along with a wage top-up of an additional $2 per hour for health-care aides, and up to 1,000 paid student practicum positions to fast-track certification and get more staff into our continuing care facilities. Additional staff will help deal with staffing shortages across the system, stated a provincial news release.

These new measures are estimated to cost an additional $7.3 million per month and are specific support for the pandemic period. The province also advanced $24.5 million to operators to help address immediate cost pressures due to COVID-19.

On April 17, Kenney said the $1 billion federal energy stimulus package, a partnership to address inactive wells, will immediately save or create thousands of jobs and keep energy service companies going. 

Alberta Health is working with employers and Alberta Health Services to expand testing to asymptomatic residents and staff in continuing care facilities and outbreak sites. 

Alberta’s testing capacity has rapidly expanded and anyone with symptoms anywhere in the province can now be tested.

Those with symptoms of COVID-19, including cough, fever, runny nose, sore throat, or shortness of breath, should complete an online COVID-19 self-assessment.

As of April 17, Alberta’s testing capacity was at approximately 7,000 samples per day, and the laboratory network is working to increase this capacity.

More than $13 billion has already been committed to the COVID-19 response by the provincial government.

A provincewide clinical trial to determine the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine in treating COVID-19 in those people at the highest risk of developing severe symptoms started on April 13, and on April 14 the province accelerated construction of five new schools to help get Albertans back to work.