LAC LA BICHE - Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche provincial MLA Laila Goodridge oversees an active riding. Normally dealing with transportation issues along the busy northern Alberta corridor, oil and gas concerns in the region’s heavy industrial sector or recreation and tourism opportunities in the busy Lakeland and northern lights municipalities, the MLA is now contending with the province’s highest active case rates of the COVID-19 virus in her riding.
Both Lac La Biche County, and her hometown Fort McMurray, are the two top municipalities in the province when it comes to active case rates of the virus.
When contacted by Lakeland Today in the days following the provincial government’s latest enhanced protective measures to reduce the spread of the virus, Goodridge says she is trying to increase awareness and provide information to her constituents so residents can make informed decisions.
“Stay six feet apart from people wash your hands, where a mask when going out in public and try and limit any social interaction, especially social interactions indoors,” he said, reciting the basic measures which have been said by healthcare and political leaders since the pandemic began more than a year ago.
Despite her plea, Lac La Biche County went into last with approximately one of every 57 people in the community at the south-end of her rural constituency infected with COVID-19.
Fort McMurray has taken the provinces second place for active cases per capita. Approximately one in every 53 residents in Goodridge’s hometown is infected.
The number of active cases, combined with the region’s active industrial workforce have gone hand-in-hand, according to some recent statistics. Many outbreaks reported in region have been attributed to work camp outbreaks.
While the number of active cases has reduced slightly in recent days — coming down from more than 200 within the 10,000 population of Lac La Biche County —there is still a long way to go, says the MLA.
“It's just incumbent on each and every one of us to continue doing what we can,” says Goodridge. “I believe that each and every one of us has to take the responsibility upon themselves to do what they can to bring our numbers down.”
Goodridge says she received her vaccine nearly a month ago after discussing the risks and benefits with her midwife.
In Lac La Biche County, Mayor Omer Moghrabi says the recent increase in cases is high on his council’s radar — even though it hasn’t been discussed publicly in any recent council meetings.
When asked by the sharp increase hasn’t been an agenda item at the weekly meetings — since the municipal active case rates jumped from just four on April 16 to more than 200 early last week, council has held three regular-scheduled meetings, including more than 17 hours of public-facing discussions — the mayor said it probably should've been.
“I agree. We should have been talking about this,” said the mayor last Friday, but explaining that there is a lot of internal discussion about the pandemic done outside of the public sessions. “Council and administration, Alberta Health, our MLAs are all part of the talks.”
More vaccines acquired
In recent days, Moghrabi says Goodridge has been integral in keeping the spotlight on the whole region.
“We have reached out to our MLA and she has in turn reached out to the Minister of Health and other officials to help us secure more vaccines.”
Just because council isn’t discussing the issue in open, public meetings, that doesn't mean the wheels aren’t rolling in the background, said Moghrabi.
“Believe me, we aren’t just standing around. We know how important this is to our residents and the province,” he said.
The municipality does have a special COVID-19 committee that meets on a regular basis, recently several times a week, to make sure that municipal procedures and planning are following provincial regulations. While the council for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo declared a State of Local Emergency at the end of April due to their increasing case numbers of the COVID-19 virus, Moghrabi said no decision like that has yet to be entertained in Lac La Biche County.
Despite the localized declaration, the Wood Buffalo area continues to take all of its direction from provincial Public Health orders. Moghrabi said those same orders, mandatory facemask wearing, occupancy restrictions inside buildings and in public spaces, as well as the social distancing measures are in in place in Lac La Biche County — like other communities across the province.
“We continue to work with Alberta Health and follow their directives.”
Going into the new week, the Lac La Biche region with an actual population of 10,000 people was reporting 165 active COVID-19 cases. When put into the provincial case-rate formula based on 100,000 people, it works out to 1,600 cases per 100,000. In Fort McMurray and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo,the weekend statistics were showing 1,500 active cases in their population of about 80,000. Those numbers translate to a per 100,000 case rate of more than 1,500.
Lac La Biche County, Wood Buffalo, Fort McMurray, and the Municipal District of Bighorn with 80 active cases in a population of just 5,000 are the only four municipal areas in the province with per 100,000 case rates higher than 1,000.
— ADDITIONAL files Rob McKinley