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COVID numbers increase as council urges care

Active COVID cases in Lac La Biche County not yet at limit for enhanced restrictions

Active COVID-19 cases in Lac La Biche County were at nine on Friday morning — and the jump in numbers has municipal officials preparing for more.

Just a week before, in the municipality of about 10,000 people, there was only one reported case of the respiratory virus that has caused a global pandemic. Days later, at last Tuesday's regular council meeting, there were four reported cases within the municipality — the highest active case count since pandemic reporting in Alberta began at the end of March. The uptick caused councillors concern — but not panic, as they continue to urge residents to follow basic COVID protocols like hand-washing and social distancing.

Deputy Mayor Colin Cote said that while council members and other community leaders need to set good examples when it comes to COVID-19 practices, the onus is on the general public to continue to be careful. As councillors discussed desk configurations in their meeting room, whether or not to wear masks in meetings, and increased cleaning of their council table, public gallery and coffee room, Cote said it wasn't just about council's response to the pandemic.

"Fixing this from the top down is not going to work — it's going to take everybody ... if everyone is careful. Everybody has to be more aware and careful," he during an open discussion at Tuesday's meeting.

No LacAlta residents showing symptoms

Two days later, with nine active cases — including one linked to a visiting worker at the LacAlta Lodge seniors home that has caused a lockdown of the facility — Lac La Biche County Mayor Omer Moghrabi was looking ahead with heightened caution. He was also interested in reducing misinformation about the local cases.

"None of the residents in LacAlta have symptoms," Moghrabi said Thursday night, explaining that a 'lockdown' is simply used as a protocol at the facility when there is a viral concern. "They tell me that even if there is one case, they consider that to be automatic outbreak status."

Continuing with the message of being more careful to keep the spread of the respiratory virus to a minimum, the mayor said council and administration are in regular contact with Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services officials. He also said the municipality's disaster preparedness plan is ready to be implemented if the number of cases surge.

In neighbouring municipalities like St. Paul County, the MD of Bonnyville and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, recent double-digit increases in active cases have brought about enhanced restrictions and precautions passed down by provincial health officials. Some of those enhanced restrictions include earlier closing times and last call liquor sales for restaurants and bars, reducing the attendance at wedding at funerals back to 50, and recommending that residents don't host social gatherings in their homes or travel outside their community to social events. In larger centres like Edmonton, Calgary, Fort McMurray and Red Deer, provincial officials have ordered the same restrictions as well as a two week shut down of fitness centres, team sporting events and theatre performances.

Emergency plan is ready

As of Friday morning, Lac La Biche County is not included in those enhanced restrictions — but Moghrabi expects that if numbers climb ... even slightly more...  that the changes could come into play. Suggesting that threshold for the municipality is at 10 active cases, he said the county's emergency planning department is ready.

"Our (Incident Command Post) ICP is always getting prepared,"he said, explaining that managers and staff from several different departments make up the roster of the ICP and have varying plans ready to implement once provincial health officials give the word. "We are ready to go. We are always looking to the province on this, and when they say, 'This is what you have to do,' we are ready to go."