Three COVID-19 cases in Hinton

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative


Hinton now has three cases of COVID-19 as formally announced by the provincial government this week, but specifics on cases are not being released due to patient confidentiality.

Tom McMillan, communications assistant director with Alberta Health, said Alberta Health  Services (AHS) takes immediate action with each case to isolate the individual and identify anyone who may be at risk of exposure.

All close contacts at risk of catching COVID-19 are directly contacted and asked to self-isolate. 

“This is the best way to protect anyone at risk and limit the spread. Anyone who has not been contacted is not considered to be at risk,” McMillan stated.

McMillan urges people to stay home when sick and practice social distancing and regular hand washing along with all the other health measures put in place.

On April 1, Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced a jump of 117 new cases of COVID-19 in Alberta, attributing that jump to a backlog of COVID-19 tests getting processed in the 24 hours leading up to the update.

That backlog had developed because of a temporary shortage in reagents, an essential element for testing, said Premier Jason Kenney.

AHS processed more than 4,500 COVID-19 tests in the last 24 hours, with around 98 per cent coming back negative. To date, the province has completed more than 50,000 tests. 

As of April 1, there are 871 cases of COVID-19 in the province, with 62 hospitalizations, 11 deaths, and 142 recoveries. AHS is partnering with a Canadian technology company to provide rapid testing for COVID-19 for Alberta.

Spartan Bioscience is also developing a COVID-19 test kit that would allow AHS lab workers to test for suspected COVID-19 in rural communities, rather than needing to send test samples to the two centralized laboratories in Edmonton and Calgary.

The province also proposed three key pieces of legislation to protect Albertans on March 31.

Two bills, if passed, will bring into force the public health enforcement activities and rental protections announced by Premier Jason Kenney on March 27. The two proposed bills meant to support and protect Albertans during COVID-19 are Bill 10, Public Health (Emergency Powers) Amendment Act, 2020, and Bill 11, Tenancies Statutes (Emergency Provisions) Amendment Act, 2020.

Bill 10 will provide law enforcement agencies full authority to enforce public health orders during a pandemic, while Bill 11 will ensure no one will be retroactively charged for residential rent increases or late fees while the state of public health emergency is in effect.

An additional bill is proposed to support economic activity in the energy sector in light of job losses due to COVID-19 and the recent oil price wars. Bill 12, Liabilities Management Statutes Amendment Act, 2020 would enable the government to clarify and enable expanded, delegated authority for the Orphan Well Association to maintain and manage orphan sites. 

“The last measure is a critical part of our efforts to keep as many Albertans as possible working and our economy moving as we face a double whammy of the global recession and the collapse of energy prices,” Premier Kenney said.

Emergency isolation supports are available for Albertans who are self-isolating or who are the sole caregivers for someone in self-isolation, with no other source of income. 

Applicants can view eligibility criteria and apply at alberta.ca. 

Access to MyAlberta Digital ID (MADI) and the emergency isolation support is periodically closed to manage the flow of applications.

This is a temporary program to bridge the gap until the Federal Emergency Care Benefit is available with no formal deadline.

The Town of Hinton closed all community playgrounds and structures on March 23.

While the parks themselves are not closed, individuals using these areas in town are asked to continue to use physical distancing to inhibit potential spread of COVID-19.

All Town recreation, FCSS, and other programming registration is postponed until further notice. 

The Town will not be accepting deposits or providing firm confirmation on bookings and rentals until opening dates are determined and announced.

While federal rules banned any domestic air or train travel for those exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 earlier this week, bus services are a provincial matter and Hinton already imposed the same restriction on municipal transit services. 

Violators of provincial restrictions will be subject to penalties introduced last week, enforceable by Peace Officers and RCMP.

These restrictions include mass gatherings reduced to no more than 15 people, closure of non-essential businesses (see more about essential businesses on Page 5), closure of Alberta Parks and public lands to vehicle access, no evictions due to failure to pay rent as of April 1, suspension of rent increases, and postponing of some non-urgent diagnostic imaging procedures and non-essential/routine lab work by AHS.

Town administration is working on arranging a special meeting of Council on April 7, said Peter Vana, Hinton’s interim CAO.

No time or agenda has been confirmed for this meeting, however, a Facebook post by Mayor Marcel Michaels did indicate that the purpose is to discuss property taxes, utilities, and other things that are affecting residents during this pandemic.

Both Vana and Michaels stated an agenda with more information should be available to the public on Friday, April 3.

The Doctors Are In

Hinton doctors collaborated to answer questions from The Hinton Voice for a local perspective on COVID-19 and other related health care topics. The answers are provided as general information only.

How many ventilators are available in Hinton?

Hinton does not routinely care for ventilated patients in our hospital, but instead transfers patients requiring ICU-level care to Edmonton.

How many hospital beds does Hinton have?

Our current layout includes 23 beds. The hospital has a multi-step surge capacity plan, that can increase capacity to many more beds, but “a bed” isn’t just a stretcher – it’s also the nursing and other staff capacity required to treat patients.

Where will testing for COVID-19 happen?

Testing for COVID-19 follows the directions determined by the Medical Officer of Health, and criteria change depending on the stage of the pandemic locally and provincially.  Currently, testing is only done when directed by HealthLink 811, and is being done by the Health Unit using a “drive-by” model.

How do we know that social distancing measures are working?

Unfortunately, we’ll only know how well our current social distancing measures are working by seeing how quickly the number of confirmed cases rise over the next several weeks. But by that time, it will be too late to do a better job – now is the critical time to “flatten the curve” of this pandemic locally.

Can you explain how they work?

Physical/social distancing measures work by reducing the number of opportunities for the virus to spread.  This virus spreads exponentially – one person might infect several others, and each of those can infect several others, and so on.  Only by severely limiting the opportunities for person-to-person spread can we reduce how many Hintonites become infected overall, and how quickly the numbers snowball.

What are the biggest concerns for doctors working with COVID-19 patients? 

Our biggest concern is getting to a place where we can’t care for everyone who needs help – having some people die simply because there is no capacity to care for them, as we’ve seen in other parts of the world.  We’re also concerned about the possibility of running low on personal protective equipment (PPE) – careful use of PPE greatly reduces our own risk of getting infected (and therefore not being able to work, or infecting our families).  If the wider community strictly follows public health advice to “slow the spread”, it will relieve both these concerns.

Allergy season is coming and people with allergies will start presenting symptoms that mimic COVID – what should they do?

Anyone who develops new symptoms should complete the online self-assessment tool at ahs.ca/covid, which is being updated as the pandemic response changes.  If you have specific questions, beyond the advice provided there, please note that all family doctors in Hinton are seeing patients via phone visit when possible.

Should people be putting off their regular visits to the clinic when it is non-COVID related?

Any patients with possible COVID-19 symptoms should not visit the clinic or ER without calling ahead, or calling 811 (or 911 if an emergency). If you’re unsure, do the self-assessment at ahs.ca/covid.  However, the clinics are making efforts to accommodate any patient who requires non-COVID-related care by arranging either phone or in-person visits as needed.  If you are unsure, please call your doctor’s office for advice.

Are wait times to see our MD’s longer?

At this time, waits are much shorter than typical.  We’re in the calm before the storm.

Are there ways to access our MDs without coming into the clinic?

Please call your doctor’s office for details.  Doctors are able to help with many issues by phone, and systems are also ramping up to do video visits as well.  If you are self-isolating, or prefer not to come to the clinic physically, it is definitely still possible to access your doctor!

Can we phone in to have a prescription updated?

Pharmacists have been granted increased ability to renew prescriptions during the pandemic response, while also ensuring that amounts of medications provided maintain supply levels.  Pharmacies are also working very hard to deliver medications when necessary.  Please contact your pharmacist or family doctor, as individual circumstances may apply to prescription refills.  In general, your doctor and pharmacist will do their best to avoid unnecessary physical visits.

Is tele-health an option?

All Hinton physicians are able to provide telephone visits, and video visits will become more common-place as the infrastructure rolls out.  Like always, patients receive optimal care from their own family doctor, and every effort is being made to continue providing seamless care during this very challenging time.

Local teacher among residents uploading videos for The PATH’s Social Distancing Talent Show

Tyler Waugh
news@hintonvoice.ca


On any given weekday Iain Langley would ordinarily be teaching Grade 3 at St. Gregory Catholic Elementary School.

But in this COVID-19 era, he found a little time to enter the Social Distancing Talent Show being organized online by The PATH.

Langley, who moved to Hinton from Edmonton a little less than three years ago, has been jamming alone at home and virtually with friends during the break.

“I figured I would put myself out there in the community a bit. I know Wendy (organizer Wendy Laurila) and she’s one of the people I jam with, and I thought it sounded like a fun idea,” said Langley via Facetime.

Laurila said she got the idea for the talent show while watching videos of celebrities performing mini-concerts on Facebook. She thought that Hinton has such amazing talent that it could work on a local level.

“Who wouldn’t want to see a neighbour, friend, co-worker perform on Facebook?” she said.

“The thing I am hoping to achieve through this … community, unity, spreading joy and happiness in a time of fear, connecting while we socially distance ourselves. If our Social Distancing Talent Show could brighten just one person’s day it is completely worth it ”

 Langley plays the ukulele and the guitar and has sung in church choirs since he was a boy growing up in Halifax. He’s also a member of HUG – the Hinton Ukulele Group – that met regularly at BRIDGES prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.

He is a fan of folk-rock icons like Simon & Garfunkel and Bob Dylan – the classics – but also has some appreciation for more contemporary artists. With that said, he chose to perform (Something Inside) So Strong, a late 1980s recording by British songwriter Labi Siffre.

“It just seemed appropriate to our situation,” Langley said. 

“There’s a lot of stress going around right now.”

Laurila said she has a few submissions that will be posted to The PATH page. She is hoping to post submissions two or three times a week, depending on the number of entries.

She said the performances have received the most likes of any of the posts The PATH have made on its page. Anybody looking to enter the show can email info@pathinton.ca when their video is set to go and Laurila will them an upload link and a waiver form they need to complete.

“I am hoping to continue doing this until we  open our doors again,” Laurila said.

“We have such an amazing town! Knowing Hinton we will come out of this so much closer, all while we were far apart.”

For Langley, he’s going to continue to jam during the days, along with taking some time outdoors on the Beaver Boardwalk and nearby trails.

He’s also keeping in touch with some students and looking forward to finishing off the school year in one way or another.

“In some capacity, anyway. It was tough the way the school  year ended. Tough to not even be able to say goodbye to the students,” he said, adding that he hopes they are doing well  and making the most of this time at home.

“Just hang tough, it’ll all be over at some point. Remember to have fun with your family right now.”

Couch Sessions delivers open mic magic

Tyler Waugh
news@hintonvoice.ca


The first Friday night of the month has become synonymous with open mic nights at The Old Grind over the past number of years.

And they’re not going to let a pesky global pandemic get in the way of offering live local music, shifting the show online for April 3 in what they are calling Live From The Old Grind – The Couch Sessions.

“We are looking for ways to connect with our community.  It’s been a tough few weeks for everyone, we just want to help people find new ways to find a little joy in their day, have a little fun, listen to some home grown music.  The beautiful thing is now anyone can play from anywhere,” said Melanie Widenmaier, owner of The Old Grind.

Former Hintonite Bob Roach, who worked with the venue on live shows in the past, has collaborated to host this event as well. Jacqueline Delisle will be managing the technology that will bring artists’ music from their living rooms to the audience in their own homes through a live feed on Facebook.

“It’s been a blast planning it,” said Widenmaier.

Ten artists with Hinton roots are already signed on for entertainment, including Mark Guebert, who will be performing live from his home in Victoria, BC. 

“The beautiful thing is now anyone can play from anywhere,” said Widenmaier. “The sky is the limit!  If it is as much of a hit as we are pretty sure it will be, we will continue hosting them in the coming weeks.”

The show starts at 7 pm and is available for viewing through https://www.facebook.com/theoldgrindcafe/.

The Couch Sessions is one of a growing list of entertainment options that are being offered online in the age of social distancing for COVID-19.

The PATH is posting recorded performances on its Facebook page as part of the Social Distancing Talent Show. The Home Routes Concert Series, which traditionally sees groups of around 20 -30 people enjoy intimate concerts in local living rooms, also moved its performances online in March, with concerts scheduled through until April 6 for now. Check out https://www.facebook.com/homeroutes/ for the most up to date information available.

Other online offerings include  The Northern Rockies Museum and their “Quarantrain” at home learning series for children. Get more details by visiting https://www.facebook.com/NorthernRockiesMuseum/

And if your kids are getting tired of just hearing your voice, the library has been offering book readings. For more please visit https://www.facebook.com/HintonLibrary/.

HELP continues supporting homeless clients

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative


With all but one staff member working from home, Hinton Employment and Learning Place (HELP) is currently closed to the public.

The mat program offered through HELP is also closed at this time, because staff feel they don’t have the expertise, supplies, and equipment to ensure there is no spread of COVID-19.

HELP received funds for the program earlier this year from the Alberta Rural Development Network (ARDN) and a federal grant through the Reaching Home Program.

Since the local mat program is shut down, HELP is allowed to use those funds to house mat users in a hotel room if they require it.

“Contracts have been completed, outlining rules and expectations, and we have one person taking advantage of it. This is only for clients who were utilizing the Mat Program, and funding will run out for this program at the end of March,” stated Deena Fuller, executive director at HELP.

HELP is looking at other funding options to continue housing mat users.

Fuller added that other homeless clients are safe and staying with friends, and relatives, where HELP delivers food and supplies as necessary, using safety precautions such as gloves, glasses and masks, and leaving supplies on doorsteps.

HELP’s homelessness coordinator, Candace Pambrun and other HELP staff have been delivering Food Bank boxes on Wednesday morning to their homeless and vulnerable clients as well.

The provincial government announced they were committing $60M to social services support, including adult homeless shelters, women’s emergency shelters, charities, non-profits and civil society organizations.

Emergency funding for charities, non-profits and civil society organizations will be distributed through local Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) programs.

“We have not received any additional funding at this time, but from what I understand, the $60M allocated to social services support will be rolled out through FCSS and will have to be applied for in form of a grant starting next week,” Fuller said.

HELP will be working closely together with FCSS staff to determine where funding is best utilized.

The province also stated that work with community-based organizations, homeless shelters, and women’s shelters would be done to update pandemic plans and expand shelter capacity.

On March 18, the Government of Canada announced a number of initiatives, including an additional $157.5M to the Reaching Home initiative.

HELP previously received funding through the Reaching Home initiative for their Freddy’s Resource Room and a homelessness coordinator position for the next four years.

HELP has not heard how the additional funding will be allocated, or how to access it at this time.

“It is interesting times, and HELP will continue to serve our vulnerable population, and our learners, just through different platforms and innovative ideas,” Fuller said.

HELP has not laid off any workers at this time, and they don’t expect any cancellations of current contracts and grants.

Staff at HELP is staying connected through ZOOM meetings and instant messaging every day.

“It is very different, as we are a very tight knit group, and it’s hard not being together physically.  But, for now we are managing, and making the best of it,” Fuller said.

Courses are still being offered but meetings with learners and employment clients are now done through ZOOM, FaceTime, and phone calls.

“We will be programming some courses which will be facilitated online through ZOOM.  People can check our Facebook page and our website for upcoming online courses,” said Fuller.

In April, the society will be offering Stress and Anxiety Management. English Language Learners and Literacy Learners are receiving one-on-one tutoring through Zoom, and GED classes and employment clients are being connected the same way.

Go to hintonlearning.ca for more information.

Stricter safety measures in place for industry

Photo from Trans Mountain

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative


Industrial services have a spot on Alberta’s essential services list, including the mining and mineral production and distribution sector, forestry products suppliers, and construction projects required to ensure operations of critical energy infrastructure.

West Fraser in Hinton consists of a pulp mill, saw mill and planer mill, which are continuing to operate with additional measures to ensure health safety and physical distancing for employees.

Tara Knight, West Fraser communications representative stated the mills in Hinton continue to adapt to new realities, with regard to employees and their response to changing operating and market conditions.

“The demand for wood products is changing significantly as governments around the world implement restrictions on work and activity. We are monitoring these market changes and will consider adaptations if necessary,” Knight said.

Teck’s Cardinal River Operations is a steelmaking coal operation located approximately 42 kilometres south of Hinton.

Nic Milligan, Teck manager of social responsibility stated they have implemented further measures to reduce the risk of transmission and support efforts to combat COVID-19.

Operations have temporarily been slowed down and crews are being reduced by up to 50 per cent of regular levels across all mining operations across B.C. and Alberta, including Cardinal River Operations.

This reduction is implemented for an initial period of approximately two weeks with all employees available for work continuing to be paid as normal.

After two weeks, measures will be re-evaluated in light of the evolving situation.

In-person meetings and other large gatherings have also been reduced or eliminated.

Other measures in place are enhanced cleaning and disinfecting protocols, including frequent disinfecting of employee buses and work areas, Milligan stated.

Promoting personal preventative measures, screening all contractors and external visitors to site for risk factors and symptoms, increasing physical distancing practices at sites have also been put in place.

Physical distancing practices include reducing the number of passengers on buses by half, separating groups of employees at work, and changing meetings from in-person to electronic.

Employees who show symptoms or are in close contact with someone with symptoms are required to stay home from work, as well as employees returning from travel outside of Canada.

“We are continuing to work with our unions and following the guidance of government and public health authorities, and will adapt our response as necessary as this situation continues to evolve,” Milligan stated.

During this COVID-19 pandemic, Trans Mountain and its construction contractors have been working diligently together to ensure adherence to all advice and direction from government and health officials both provincially and federally, while ensuring the uninterrupted safe operation of the Trans Mountain Pipeline and the continued, safe construction of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, said the Trans Mountain Media Relations team.

Project construction is well underway in several areas of B.C. and Alberta and Trans Mountain plans to continue construction as long as possible in a way that protects employees and the broader community.

Bus, vehicle, and trailer cleaning requirements and frequency have been increased. 

“Each bus has a pre and post trip disinfecting procedure and is equipped with a COVID-19 kit which includes disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, plastic garbage bags, disposable gloves and a disinfectant check list,” said the Media Relations team.

Trans Mountain has finished brush clearing for the spring season around Hinton and subcontractors will be de-mobilizing this weekend ahead of road use restrictions for spring break-up. 

Construction sites in Alberta go through spring break-up as the snow melts and frost thaws, making the ground softer, including under roadways. 

If the ground isn’t completely stable, roads can be damaged by the movement of heavy trucks and equipment, the media relations team explained. 

The majority of field personnel and equipment in the area will be off-site as spring-break takes place in Alberta.

Bighorn Mining did not respond to a request for comment by The Voice deadline.

SPCA needs support for animal shelter

Photo submitted by SPCA of Dolly

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative


COVID-19 is causing a bit of a cash crunch at the Hinton and District SPCA at the same time demand for its shelter service is maxed out.

The animal boarding facility of the Hinton and District SPCA was completely empty during spring break, a time when it is normally fully booked.

The boarding facility, which constitutes half of the building run by the SPCA, brings in a large chunk of the organization’s revenue to help fund the animal shelter operations. The board facility  had been fully booked before COVID-19 caused the cancellations of all its reservations. On top of the loss of that revenue, the organization also participates in operating the share shop, which is now closed down due to COVID-19.

Cathy Thomas, vice president of the Hinton SPCA stated that after cutting 62 shifts next month the group is working with a skeleton crew.

“Luckily a few of our [staff] have second jobs, but what I’m hearing is that they’re not getting any hours at their second job either,” Thomas said.

The SPCA board made a decision to not put any student employees on shifts in the month of April for their safety. As soon as the situation settles down and boarding picks back up, the SPCA will welcome those employees back with open arms, Thomas assured.

With no need to staff the boarding facility and minimal work at the front desk, staff are focusing on the animal shelter, which has reached capacity.

There are approximately 35 cats and 14 dogs at the animal shelter and animal viewings can only be done via appointment at this time. Very few people are currently scheduled to come in for animal viewings.

Photo submitted by SPCA of Kurby

Animals at the SPCA are brought in as owner surrenders, through SCARS animal rescue, and animal control. Since COVID-19 forced closure of SPCA doors to the public, they’ve taken in two dogs that were owner surrenders.

“Our staff has been cleaning, it’s been amazing, the place is totally spotless,” Thomas said.

Thomas added that the organization couldn’t ask for better staff at this time.

“The community really needs to know that our money was tight before, but this has made it incredibly tight. We could really use monetary donations at this time,” Thomas said. To donate, go to hintondistrictSPCA.com.

Pine Valley Lodge resident feels safe and supported in light of COVID crisis measures

Brent Simmonds, resident of the Pine Valley Lodge, pictured here before going up on a lift to view the lodge from above in spring 2019.

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative


“They sure are taking this virus very seriously”

A hairy woodpecker sits outside the window of Pine Valley Lodge (PVL), enjoying the bird feeder and serving as entertainment for 84-year-old resident, Brent Simmonds.

Simmonds continues taking care of his bird feeders, which are placed in the tree outside his window, despite the lodge being on somewhat of a lockdown due to COVID-19.

“I’m one of the lucky ones that has a tree and my feeders outside. I can watch the birds, a lot of the people don’t have that,” Simmonds said.

The lodge is closed to non-essential visitors and has strict cleaning guidelines set out by Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health.

Residents are restricted by certain safety measures that keep each of them at least two metres from one another, but Simmonds said he feels quite safe as life continues on.

“We are changing our activity programs to more one on one activities and social distancing in group activities of five or less,” said Kristen Chambers, CAO of the Evergreens Foundation that manages PVL.

Simmonds explained that their usual crib tournaments are now scaled down to two per table instead of four, to maintain the distance between residents. 

“Everyone likes crib and we’ll do what we have to do to play our crib,” he said.

A few residents have chosen to self-isolate in their rooms and dinner times have changed to ensure only two people sit at a table, maintaining their distance, Simmonds said.

He added that some residents can’t stand the loneliness in their rooms, but that he isn’t stressed about the current situation.

“I don’t mind it that much, because like I told the other people in here, I could sit out on a lookout tower all summer and not see anyone and be happy. But of course it’s kind of hard on a lot of these people that aren’t used to this solitude,” he added.

Taped to his window, Simmonds also has a poster made by his brother and his brother’s grandkids.The poster depicts the mountains, and trees, with three people walking through.

His great-nephew explained that those three people were him, his sister, and their great uncle walking through the mountains.

“I have that on the inside of my window there and I can look at it. Stuff like that really chokes you up,” Simmonds said.

Residents are able to contact their family members through various ways including phone, Facetime, Skype, and video messenger. Chambers added that many families have been dropping off little treats, gifts and supplies and the residents love that. 

Staff asked families to help ensure products are properly sanitized whenever possible and to limit the number of parcels they drop off each week.

Chambers was happy to report that there are no cases of COVID-19 in any of the Evergreen Foundation facilities.

Simmonds praised staff for their hard work in making sure the lodge stays clean as well as keeping up the spirits of residents. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, residents at PVL frequently nominated staff members who they believed deserved some special recognition for their hard work, Simmonds said.

“I figure that all of [the staff] should be recognized and I said how do I go about recognizing all the staff?” Simmond said.

He listed each of the staff members, including the lodge administrator and the staff member tasked to wash down the doors and the walls ‘all day long’.

“The staff is working hard – it’s unreal. They sure are taking this virus very seriously,” Simmonds said.

As for the planned construction of the new Pine Valley Lodge building this year, work is starting this week. The tree clearing company will be coming and construction fencing will be going up. 

“The residents are excited and we think it will be wonderful for them to be able to watch all the excitement outside,” Chambers said.

Scott Builders is following all established COVID-19 protocols and will limit crew size on site. 

Construction workers don’t need access to the inside of the building, which means there are no concerns of transmission from the construction crew.

Alberta establishes its essential services list

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative


The Alberta Government released a list of services deemed essential in the province over the past weekend.

These businesses and services can continue operating and providing their service with proper risk mitigating measures. Businesses that aren’t deemed essential but also aren’t prohibited by the government can continue operations.

Hinton’s Home Hardware Building Centre is one of the retail services recognized as essential and will continue operating. Strict cleaning protocols were implemented for the store and store hours have been modified to accommodate staffing needs and cleaning schedules.  

“We are discussing the business and news developments daily and making changes to our business as needed. In being an independently owned and operated Canadian company we have the flexibility and adaptability to accommodate our communities needs,” said Amica Sturdy, operations manager of Hinton’s home hardware.  

“We have increased our inventory levels on critical items during this pandemic.”

Additional services have also been implemented at this time, such as a no-contact home delivery program to ensure physical distancing. The program allows orders to be delivered on front steps or curbside for pickup. Due to physical distance standards, in-house appliance deliveries and in-home visits for kitchen/countertop measures are no longer available. Appliances can still be delivered curbside if the customer has the ability to move their new appliance inside on their own.

Parks West Mall remains open to ensure those who rely on essential service tenants can continue to access them. Essential services anchor tenants include Dollarama, Walmart, Parks West Liquor Town, and Safeway. While these sites remain open, they do have reduced hours. 

The mall itself has enhanced cleaning and sanitization protocols throughout common areas and reduced seating capacity and gathering space as recommended by the Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC).

“Several stores at Parks West have temporarily closed in an effort to keep our patrons safe and accommodate government restrictions to mitigate the impact of COVID-19,” stated Sherry Griffiths, property manager of Parks West Mall.

Grocery stores are deemed essential under the food and shelter section on the Government of Alberta website.

Ken Lovsin, vice president of Freson Brothers, stated the supply chain is strong and products are being put out as they come in from suppliers. Demand for certain products has gone up but orders continue to come in and staff continue to work hard to stock shelves.

“We feel the supply chain is getting stronger and the products that we’re short on are starting to come back into the supply chain, all we can do is our best in our stores with the situation we’re in,” Lovsin said.

Health and safety measures from Alberta Health and the federal government are being followed in all Freson Brothers stores to continue serving the communities.

Freson Brothers implemented a Golden Hour from 7 am until 8 am every morning for elderly and immune-compromised customers.

Staff is disinfecting heavily used objects in the store like baskets, carts, and checkout stations.

Plexiglass shields have been placed at the cashier area to protect both customers and staff. Once the store closes at 11 pm, staff takes part in a more in-depth cleaning.

Lovsin stated that Freson Brothers continues to hire staff during this time.

Workplaces not otherwise restricted or ordered to close can have more than 15 workers on a work site as long as they follow all public health guidelines, the government website stated.

Self-assessments and finding alternate ways to organize meetings, cancelling gatherings of 15 or more people, employing mitigation strategies, and continuing business continuity planning to prepare critical operations for any potential interruption are also included in the government recommendations.

Essential services listed under medical, public safety and security, food and shelter, energy and utilities, water, transportation, industrial, petroleum, natural gas, and coal, construction, agriculture and horticulture, retail, financial, information and telecommunication, public administration and government are listed on the Alberta website.

Local pharmacists adapt after initial surge in demand from COVID-19

Robert Hayashi, local pharmacist at King Drug

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative


The calm after the storm

Front-line health-care workers, including community pharmacists, are doing everything they can to continue providing essential services while keeping themselves and their clients safe during the COVID-19 crisis.

Robert Hayashi, a local pharmacist at King Drug, explained the current challenge is that they are running into limitations on the supply of some drugs.

“A lot of the wholesalers are putting things on allocation, it’s about finding supply that we need and finding alternatives if we can’t find a particular drug,” Hayashi explained.

Hayashi spent some time after his shift last week driving to other community pharmacies in Grande Cache and Edson to pick up drugs needed for clients in Hinton and selling products to other pharmacies for their patients.

Consumer panic and stockpiling could be partly to blame for the current shortages.

Hayashi stated that Alberta Health put out a directive earlier to limit refills of client orders to one month instead of the standard three months.

“Hopefully that will help a little bit just in terms of maintaining the inventory that we have,” Hayashi said.

Issues with supply lines could also be another factor for the shortage of prescription drugs moving forward. Hayashi pointed out that some drugs are manufactured in other countries or raw materials come from overseas, which could create longer term issues as production in other parts of the world are down.

“A lot of those things that you take for granted before, you would put an order in and it would come, but now at least with my pharmacy order, I’ll place an order and I’ll get 40 to 50 per cent of what I need and the rest you have to figure something out or switch something,” Hayashi said.

With no real idea of how long this will last, Hayashi recommends clients call their pharmacy with concerns and they will work towards a solution on a case to case basis.

Within King Drug, he said everyone is continuing to sanitize as much as possible and maintaining their social distancing. Contingency plans and backup plans are in place and Hayashi added the overall morale has been alright despite stricter safety measures and a stretch of busy days. After working at the pharmacy for nearly six years, he said that Monday, March 16, through Wednesday, March 18, was the busiest stretch he’d ever seen.

“I think a lot of it was probably people panicking and coming in,” Hayashi said. 

A lot of uncertainty around how long this would last and how to prepare made for a chaotic week. The pharmacy saw fewer people in the following week, and this week they’ve been able to catch their breath and get caught up.

“I’d say the first three or four days there was absolutely hectic,” Hayashi added.

As pharmacists have encouraged their clients to stay home, they’ve also seen an influx in home deliveries and counseling over the phone. 

King Drug has split up their staff into two separate shifts.If one line is forced into self-isolation due to contracting COVID-19, the other can continue working and providing the essential service.

The operation closes its doors for half an hour at 2 pm in order for the morning shift to thoroughly sanitize the store before the next line of staff comes in at 2:30 pm.

“We never get in contact with each other and that way if one line goes down the other line can take over and it just decreases the likelihood of us having to close,” Hayashi explained.