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Coronavirus causes cancellations throughout Athabasca

Everything from the annual Grassland Trade Show, to St. Patrick's Day celebrations have been cancelled
COVID-19 precautions cause events and facilities to cancel or close across the Athabasca region. File

ATHABASCA - Events across the region have been either put-off or cancelled altogether due to the evolving situation regarding the coronavirus scare. 

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw recommended the cancellation of all gatherings of more than 250 people due to the virus at a news conference in Edmonton March 12. 

Any event that has more than 50 attendees and expects to have international participants, or involves critical infrastructure staff, seniors, or other high-risk populations should also be cancelled Hinshaw said. Events that do not meet these criteria can proceed, but risk mitigation must be in place, such as sanitizer stations and distancing between attendees. 

Vice-president Dan Grygus from the Grassland Agricultural Society said the decision to cancel the annual Grassland Trade Show was made at 3:45 a.m. March 13. 

“At that time, I made a total of 32 texts and emails letting everyone know of the cancellation,” Grygus said. “Rocky Mountain Equipment, which is a major sponsor for the event, brought up a big tractor up from Westlock. It cost $1,000 each way to bring it up.” 

He added it was not an easy decision to shut down after hours and hours or work setting up for the event. 

“Last year the event was right on the money it went so well,” Grygus said. “But in the end, it’s out of our control and we hope to have better luck with our event next year.” 

Athabasca Fish and Game Association president Brian Rudyk said the announcement from Alberta Health Services prompted they to postpone their Awards Night and Wild Game Supper that was supposed to happen March 14. 

“We don’t want to cancel it altogether, as there is lots going on at this point in time,” Rudyk said. “Our banquet is very family oriented from our seniors to all of our youth, and this is the organization’s 75th anniversary this year. We really hope to get this event back on track as soon as we possibly can.” 

The St. Patrick’s Day Family Dinner and Dance that was scheduled at the Boyle Community Centre March 13 also got axed due to the coronavirus scare. 

Greater Athabasca Community Foundation president Lindsay Stanton said they made the decision to cancel the night before. 

“The health and safety of our attendees always has to come first,” Stanton said. 

Organizer Virginia Donald added the reason they cancelled their monthly Amber Valley Music Jam event March 14 was due to the age of their attendees. 

“We have lots of seniors that come out to this event, and they are one of the more susceptible groups that can get sick from this virus,” Donald said. “For their own safety we decided to cancel the event.” 

In Aspen View School Division, communications officer Ross Hunter said it would be difficult to quantify how many events may or may not be cancelled at this time. 

“Schools are making decisions for specific events and are acting accordingly,” Hunter continued. “Some of the events cancelled include the senior boys' basketball tournament at (Edwin Parr Composite), as well as the archery provincials at the Edmonton Boat and Sportsman Show. As well, all trips out of province for schools within the division have been cancelled.” 

Chief administrative officer Shirley Surgenor from the Greater North Foundation said one of the precautions they have taken at their facilities, including Athabasca’s Pleasant Valley Lodge, is the closing of all public events. 

“It’s been a little worrisome to say the least,” Surgenor stated. “All internal activities will continue at the moment, but that may change depending on what AHS has to say. But all external events such as soup and sandwich sales or a pub night have all been cancelled. We have also asked any visitors to go straight to their loved one’s rooms, and if they’ve been ill to not come in at all.” 

In a March 13 email, Extendicare CEO Michael Guerriere said they continue to follow all public health authority directives to help keep their residents, family members and team members safe. 

"When news of COVID-19 started to come out, we activated our Incident Management System (IMS) team,” Guerriere said. “The IMS team has been meeting daily since January to develop and implement strategies to manage the virus threat. Daily communications within our organization update team members on emerging issues and changes to monitoring procedures.” 

He added that Extendicare continues working closely with public health agencies to prevent the spread of coronavirus through the screening of all residents, team members and visitors to their homes. 

“We ask that visitors refrain from visiting if they exhibit symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, chills, muscle pain or a headache,” Guerriere stated. “This is displayed on a poster at all locations in all required languages. Procedures are also in place for screening care team members who are prohibited from coming to work if they are ill.” 

Churches reaction 

Athabasca’s places of worship are also taking some precautions due to the scare of the coronavirus. 

Rev. Monica Rosborough at the Athabasca United Church said while they will remain open for services, they will be providing home worshiping kids for anyone feeling like they need to self-isolate. 

“As far as I know the church has never closed and we are not about to start now,” Rosborough explained. “We will be using little tiny cups for communion rather than one shared up, and we will have hand sanitizers at the main door and encourage good hygiene practices.” 

She said Pastor Andre Tan from Singapore once said, quote, “The biggest lesson for me has been navigating the roads between wisdom and fear.” 

Bishop Paul Terrio from the St. Paul Roman Catholic Diocese said that all parishes, including St. Gabriel’s in Athabasca, are to withdraw from communion from the cup, communion on the tongue, all handshakes and from using holy water fonts. 

“These measures are to diminish the risk of contamination from a disease that threatens the common good of our communities,” Terrio said. “As well, I have granted a dispensation from attending Sunday mass for all parishioners over the age of 65 because they are among the most at risk from contracting the virus.” 

Interim pastor Christobel Lines from the All Saints Anglican Church said discussions are still being held regarding the coronavirus. 

“We will have a decision on our plan of action by March 18,” Lines said. 

Bryan Taylor

About the Author: Bryan Taylor

Bryan Taylor is a reporter with the Athabasca Advocate, joining the paper in April 2018. He covers Athabasca and Boyle municipal politics, as well as other news, community events and sports in and around the region.
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