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Banff ramps up testing as COVID-19 cases surge in tourist town

Click to play video 'Hinshaw warns rural Alberta that COVID-19 is not a Calgary or Edmonton problem' Hinshaw warns rural Alberta that COVID-19 is not a Calgary or Edmonton problem
WATCH ABOVE: Dr. Deena Hinshaw took time during her COVID-19 update on Thursday to speak directly to rural Albertans, reminding them that they are not immune to the coronavirus. – Dec 3, 2020

Banff is seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases. Following months of single-digit numbers, the Alberta municipality now has the highest number of cases per capita in the province.

“We are still in a very serious situation in our community,” Mayor Karen Sorensen said.

The town has implemented more restrictions as a result of the increase in COVID-19 cases. Masks now have to be worn outside on more of the downtown streets while bars and restaurants can only operate at 50 per cent capacity of fire code.

“We are here and the roads into our community are open. We just think it’s our responsibility to let everyone know that we are a high-risk community at this time for COVID(-19),” Sorensen said.

Doctors’ offices have been swamped with testing.

“We are seeing up to 100 patients a day,” said Dr. Jane Fowke with Alpine Medical Clinic. “We are rising to the occasion and providing a service the best we can.

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“I’m lucky in that I haven’t really seen any really sick people, and I hope that doesn’t happen.”

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READ MORE: Alberta sets another daily COVID-19 record with 1,854 new cases 

Fowke said it’s mostly 18- to 30-year-old restaurant and hotel workers they are seeing, and some young children.

On Friday, Alberta Health Services is opening a testing site at the Banff Community Health Centre. The town said it is expecting positive cases to rise even more in the area.

The Banff Mineral Springs Hospital has taken three Calgary patients in the past two weeks to help ease the strain on urban hospitals. The patients were not COVID-19 patients, but dealing with other medical issues.

“These patients were asked and agreed to the transfer,” AHS said in a statement to Global News.

The pandemic has hit the tourist town hard.

“Business in Banff in general has been devastated,” said Trevor Long, president of the Banff Lake Louise Hospitality Association.

“Over 70 per cent of revenue has been lost. Occupancy rates for hotels in 2020 are below half of what they were in 2019.”

Long said there were many cancellations for the end of November and early December once the province introduced new restrictions, but so far, it appears people are waiting before cancelling their Christmas plans. He is urging both visitors and locals to keep their chins up.

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“At our core, we are Canadians, and Canadians are known to be inviting, friendly, welcoming,” he said. “We want to keep that reputation in tact when we get to the end.

“It’s important. We will get through this but we need to get through this together.”

Long said he hopes everyone is kind and caring to one another.

Some businesses in Banff have opted to close their doors because they no longer have the staff to operate. Others have had outbreaks at their businesses and some are just closing up to be safe.

Watch below: Some Global News videos about the COVID-19 situation in Banff throughout 2020.