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Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise outbreak not being tracked: AHS source


‘It’s shocking to me, I never thought it would get this far — when is AHS or the hotel going to do something’

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A COVID-19 outbreak that’s infected about 100 staff at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is being ignored by health-care authorities, says an Alberta Health Services source and hotel staff emails.

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The outbreak at the majestic Rocky Mountain hotel that began last week — and has sent dozens more workers into isolation — hasn’t been publicly disclosed on the Alberta Health website and isn’t being subject to its procedures the way it was earlier in the pandemic, said the AHS staffer.

“We are not consulting medical officers of health anymore . . . regardless of what the risk is,” said the source.

“It’s moving to endemic status so there won’t be any focus on COVID, it’s like the open for summer business.”

Last summer, the UCP government eliminated nearly all COVID-19 restrictions for what Premier Jason Kenney coined the “best summer ever.” Provincial officials have since said it was a mistake ahead of a devastating fourth wave of the disease that peaked last fall.

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The roughly 100 hotel workers thought to be infected as of Tuesday yielded positive results using rapid antigen tests that aren’t being confirmed with more accurate PCR screening, said the AHS staffer.

“It spreads like wildfire through (staff),” said the source, adding hotel employees live in close proximity for most hours of the day.

“It’s unsettling (AHS) isn’t doing anything — we’re just dropping the ball.”

That source said those confirmed infections, and others ill or waiting for tests and in isolation, numbered 210, which would be more than a third of the hotel’s total workforce.

But aside from the 97 infections, another 45 staffers were symptomatic and in isolation, according to an email sent to employees on Dec. 28 by hotel general manager Tracy Lowe.

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“While the initial increase in cases that we saw moved quite quickly, we do seem to be seeing a slight (if only just) slow down on the number of positive cases that we are experiencing each day,” stated Lowe.

“The wider Lake Louise community and the wider Bow Valley (and beyond) are experiencing the same scenario.”

A hotel employee also raised concerns, saying employees’ calls to AHS about the worsening situation had fallen on deaf ears.

“It’s shocking to me, I never thought it would get this far — when is AHS or the hotel going to do something,” said the staffer, who also requested anonymity.

“There’s a lot of anxiety — my co-workers are pretty wildly uncomfortable.”

The employee said possible outbreaks or COVID-19 cases at the hotel were more closely monitored and addressed by AHS early on in the pandemic.

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Currently, said the staffer, the hotel is at 73 per cent capacity and expects to be 80 per cent full for New Year’s.

Many staff who’ve been exposed to colleagues who have tested positive are still working, said the staffer, adding, “we’re extremely short-staffed, they’re pushing people to the brink.”

The hospitality industry across the country says it’s facing increasing staff shortages from employees being sidelined by COVID-19.

In an email, Lowe told staff that new guest bookings have been suspended at the hotel from Dec. 24 through Jan. 2, and that signage informing visitors of the situation has been posted at entrances.

“We realize this won’t stop all visitors from entering and that is fine but we hope it helps to reduce the volume that we can see during this time of year,” she said on Christmas Day.

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Access to some of the hotel’s venues has been reduced in response to the outbreak, she stated.

Critics of the UCP government have questioned the decision to limit the use of PCR testing to those who are symptomatic, while emphasizing the employment of rapid antigen screening that doesn’t provide data on case numbers.

The situation at Lake Louise isn’t being ignored, but such situations can be expected to multiply, AHS said in a statement.

“AHS is aware of a cluster of COVID-19 cases in the Lake Louise area. Our communicable disease team and medical officers of health have been supporting local medical staff and are working with employers,” the statement said.

“With high community spread of COVID-19, we expect to see cases connected to workplaces increase in the coming weeks.”

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The latest available official data from the province, released Wednesday, showed 17,396 active cases, more than double the 8,359 reported last Friday, though the crucial measurement of hospitalizations has remained stable.

But health-care officials say those case numbers, including a daily record of an estimated 4,000 new cases reported Thursday, only represent a small portion of the real numbers and come with a positivity rate of around 30 per cent.

The tsunami of new cases driven by the Omicron variant has forced medical authorities to focus tracing efforts on priority areas, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Tuesday.

“Last week we were following protocols . . . however, with the surge of numbers and volumes we’re currently seeing it’s not possible to maintain those individual followup notifications . . . so that protocol has been altered because we do have to focus our capacity where there’s highest risk of outcomes,” she said.

BKaufmann@postmedia.com

Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn

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