COVID creeps closer: cases confirmed locally

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

COVID-19 was probably in Slave Lake for some time, but its official arrival was March 20. That’s when the first two cases of the virus were announced. Another one followed shortly, and that’s where it stayed through the weekend. Again, it is quite likely those aren’t the only three people infected.

“Having cases in Slave Lake doesn’t change the health recommendation,” said mayor Warman in one of his regular updates. “Social distancing works. Keep doing what you are doing.”

Warman went on to say Slave Lake wasn’t going to stop the virus from coming. The goal continues to be to limit the spread. Most are taking appropriate measures, he said, but “there are still a few people who have travelled out of Canada, who aren’t self-isolating. If you have travelled outside of Canada, “100 per cent you should self-isolate.”

That same advice of course applies to anybody who has been in close contact with anybody who has recently returned from outside the country, or who is sick, or who is known to have the virus.

Alberta Health’s North Zone (more or less the geographic northern half of the province) had one reported case at the start of the week (March 16). That was in Cold Lake. The number had grown to 18 by Sunday. The first in the Lesser Slave area was in Grouard, at the west end of Lesser Slave Lake.

Coping strategies
A lot of things were happening last week, and local businesses and agencies and individuals were scrambling to cope. Mainly, the goal was to stay in business while limiting human contact as much as possible.

We did some calling around to find out how it was going.

Family Care Clinic
Hours were reduced at the clinic, and non-essential procedures canceled. The clinic also wants you to call in for prescription renewal, instead of coming in person.

Town and M.D.
Late last week the Town of Slave Lake announced its office doors would be closed starting this Monday. Walk-in business (bill-paying and such) will be welcomed on Friday between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

The M.D of Lesser Slave River had a different arrangement. The office was open, but visitors were not being met by an attendant at the counter. If they are there to pay a bill, they are encouraged to drop it in the box provided and ring a bell. Work continues as usual in providing water and grading roads and so on, but with a strong effort to limit contact with the public.

The Rotary Club of Slave Lake Library board made the decision to close the three libraries it oversees on March 16. Manager Kendra McRee told The Leader that same morning the initial period of closure would be for two weeks. During that time, she said, plans would be made on how to resume some services in a modified fashion. Even lending books isn’t out of the question, she said, but she admitted she had no idea at that point how it might work.

Keeping the shelves stocked
A Slave Lake supermarket owner (who prefers not to be named) struck a positive note in his view of the situation on the morning of March 16.

“People don’t need to worry about the food supply,” he said. “There’s no shortage. We’re just trying to catch up.”

Asked what stood out in the previous few days, he said, “The sheer volume. We’re selling everything.”

Toilet paper and hand sanitizers were the obvious big ones. The baking supplies aisle was getting a lot of attention too.

“People are apparently doing some baking at home,” he said.

Sobey’s announced last week it would open an hour earlier (7:00 a.m.) on March 20 “to allow our elderly and those with compromised immune systems to shop stress free. We will continue this effort with a weekly designated day until further notice (schedule to be provided) and reassess as needed.” No Frills followed suit a day or two later, opening earlier four days a week.

Walmart got back to us from corporate HQ, saying they are doing what they can to keep their shelves stocked, as well as to enhance the safety of customers and employees. The message also mentioned the company is looking into “pickup and delivery” options.

Seniors’ residences
Moving on to other areas, Vanderwell Lodge, the seniors’ residence in Slave Lake made the decision to do a “partial lockdown” of the facility, said manager Suzanne Olscamp. Only essential workers would be allowed in.

On the other hand, the lodge is welcoming offers of help from people willing to bring groceries for residents. The phone number is 780-849-2927.

Next door at Points West the decision had been made to stop visiting for the time being, for the safety of all concerned. How long that might last was yet to be determined.

Business as usual, more or less
The regional fire service continues its work as it must. But a large animal rescue course scheduled for this week has been postponed indefinitely. Chief Alex Pavcek says the halls are closed to the public as well, at least until April 15. That’s a tentative date; it could be longer.

Most of the rest of the restaurants in town had eliminated or reduced the amount of people they would serve inside. Most were (and are, presumably) focusing on takeout and delivery service for the time being.

With school canceled, some people were seen taking their small children to work with them – in this case a bank. Not an ideal situation, but with no daycare, no school and an apparently accommodating employer, that’s what was being done. Others were trying to figure out how to shift all office operations to remote locations (employee homes), should it become necessary.

For the time being, The Leader will continue to publish.

Image courtesy of the Town of Slave Lake

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