Even as record COVID-19 cases are recorded in Alberta, people are continuing to gather in large numbers, defying the rules.
A rodeo near the community of Bowden drew hundreds of people this weekend despite the province recording a record number of new COVID-19 cases on Saturday.
The event was called the No More Lockdown Rodeo Rally.
Alberta Health Services sent a letter to organizers indicating the event would be illegal, and in a statement, expressed disappointment with the decision to proceed.
“It is disappointing that the organizers ignored this information and went ahead with their event, knowing it was a clear breach of the current public health restrictions,” it said.
“In addition, it is extremely concerning that people would knowingly put their fellow Albertans at risk by ignoring the restrictions, particularly with increasing cases and the subsequent pressure on our health-care system. AHS is considering our legal options in regards to the organizers of this event.”
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney released a statement on social media Sunday, stating his concerns.
“It is disturbing to see large numbers of people gathering this weekend at Bowden in flagrant violation of COVID-19 public health measures,” he tweeted.
“We are all sick of this. We all want it to end. Thousands of Albertans are following the rules, sacrificing travel and social gatherings to do their part to stop the spread of COVID-19. Not only are gatherings like this a threat to public health, (but they are also) a slap in the face to everybody who is observing the rules to keep themselves and their fellow Albertans safe.”
Dr. Noel Gibney, co-chair of the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association’s Strategic COVID-19 Pandemic Committee, said he’s concerned about the message the large gathering at the rodeo sends.
“Particularly, because the premier seems to be listening to that message much more than the public health message, which is we’re facing a public health disaster,” Gibney said.
“The impact is going to be very severe in Alberta unless the government wakes up and takes notice,” said Gibney, who is pushing for more health restrictions.
When Calgary paramedic Nate Pike pulled into EMS headquarters just before midnight Friday, he was shocked to see around 50 young adults in the parking lot.
“When I asked the one kid, ‘Do you know what this building is?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ I was so stunned because it just showed that they weren’t having a protest; they were just looking for a place to have a party,” said Pike, who is also a candidate in the upcoming municipal election for Ward 3.
He said there was music and dancing and no distancing or masks.
Pike said he was angry with the disregard for health restrictions but instead chose to tell his personal story of dealing with a COVID-19-related death.
“I said, ‘I have watched people die from this. I have had to tell families that their loved one is gone because of this,'” Pike said.
University of Alberta infectious disease specialist Dr. Lynora Saxinger said a combination of personal COVID-19 stories and facts can help address resistance to restrictions.
“I do not think people are evil. I think they are misguided. That misguidedness — it’s actually really damaging to the entire community,” Saxinger said.
Pike understands how people who haven’t had a family member get sick from the virus can tend not to take it seriously.
“It’s really hard for people who haven’t seen the kind of things that we see to really understand the gravity and the weight of them, and I think, sometimes, it’s best to say this is what my experience with this thing is. It’s real. I have no reason to lie to you,” Pike said.
Pike said he was encouraged to see that soon after his chat with the young people, the crowd went away.