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Coronavirus: Sylvan Lake officials to meet with province after weekend of crowded beaches

Hinshaw responds to large crowds at Alberta beaches over the last week
WATCH ABOVE: Alberta’s Dr. Deena Hinshaw responds to reports of crowded beaches in the province over the last week.

The Town of Sylvan Lake said it is reaching out to the province for guidance on how it can help control crowds, after people flocked to the beach community in central Alberta over the warm weekend.

A photo of Sylvan Lake, Alta., shared on Twitter Saturday gained quite a bit of attention online – for the lack of attention beach goers paid to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The photo showed a packed beach, with some groups clearly not adhering to physical distancing rules. The province currently recommends people stay a minimum of two metres away from those not within their household or family/friend cohort.

LISTEN BELOW: Sylvan Lake Mayor Sean McIntyre joins The Ryan Jespersen Show

On Monday, Sylvan Lake officials said they were disappointed with those who did not follow best health and safety practices on the weekend.

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In a media release, officials said those who are unable or unwilling to adhere the direction of Alberta Health and maintain physical distance “must reconsider visiting our community.”

Read more: Beachgoers crowd Sylvan Lake despite pandemic rules: ‘COVID-19 is still here’

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“Controlling social behaviour is tremendously difficult,” Sylvan Lake CAO Wally Ferris said. “We neither have the jurisdiction, nor the resources, to manage and enforce behaviour.

“Only the RCMP and Alberta Health has the authority to enforce how visitors comply with physical distancing rules, but we want to be clear: from what we observed on the weekend — the sheer number of people, enforcement alone is not the solution.”

The town said it has reached out to the province for “clear direction” on how destinations like Sylvan Lake can allow people to continue to enjoy the lake and allow local businesses to continue to operate.

Beachgoers crowd Sylvan Lake despite pandemic rules
Beachgoers crowd Sylvan Lake despite pandemic rules

 

In a public health update Monday afternoon, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said the province has made changes to the Public Health Act to help local communities enforce public health orders.

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The province’s chief medical officer of health said she is also aware of a few locations where a lot of crowds have been gathering. Dr. Deena Hinshaw said she intends to meet with certain groups this week to discuss best practices.

“I think it would be premature to talk about specifics or how we could give any additional assistance,” she said Monday afternoon.

“We have, as minister Shandro mentioned, put in place orders that are enforceable by law enforcement as well as guidance and guidelines of operators of different businesses and locations, but recognize that there are some locations — and Sylvan Lake as you mentioned is an example — where there are challenges.

“We will be setting up conversations this week to see how we can work together to make sure that the local municipalities and other groups have the support that we’re able to provide and that we can think through solutions that are locally appropriate.”

Read more: Kelowna COVID-19 outbreaks linked to hotel parties: B.C. health minister

Premier Jason Kenney also acknowledged the crowds on Monday and implored Albertans to remain vigilant and disciplined, stressing “we are not done with COVID.”

“We saw large crowds gathering this weekend at Sylvan Lake and, understandably with the nice weather, the people [were] very close together. I’ve seen that myself in parks and have seen people in crowded areas, including grocery stores, not wearing masks,” Kenney said.
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“That kind of conduct, unfortunately, could jeopardize the progress that we have made.”

Sylvan Lake officials encouraged anyone who visited the community and did not maintain two metres of physical distance to get tested for the novel coronavirus.

On Monday, Hinshaw announced an additional 230 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Alberta over the last three days and one additional death due to the disease. There have been 161 deaths in Alberta related to COVID-19 since the pandemic began.