FORT MCMURRAY (660 NEWS) – “We want more than attention, we want action.”
Strong words from Mayor Don Scott during Tuesday’s Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo council meeting after hearing the latest update on the COVID-19 situation in the community, which remains under a State of Local Emergency.
Cases in the region have been growing at an extremely high rate in recent weeks. According to Chief Administrative Officer Jamie Doyle, there were 166 active cases in the RMWB back on April 1. The most recent stats from the province show a total of 1,252 active cases – 1,235 in Fort McMurray and 17 in the surrounding areas. Recoveries sit at 2,782 while five Fort McMurray residents have died.
During the council meeting, Mayor Scott said he spoke with Premier Jason Kenney this past Sunday to express concerns about the local COVID situation. Officials also met with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Health Minister Tyler Shandro on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Shandro announced a three-step change to the province’s vaccine rollout that will benefit the RMWB, as well as the Banff region. Shandro said Alberta is soon expecting to receive approximately 30,000 doses of the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine and that they will all be redirected to the two hardest-hit areas.
He said the province is still awaiting confirmation of the exact date of arrival from Ottawa.
Furthermore, the age eligibility for the Janssen and AstraZeneca vaccines will be lowered to 30 in the RMWB. Indigenous peoples in the region 30 and older will be able to receive the Moderna shot.
“We have an extremely young population in this region,” Mayor Scott said during this week’s council meeting. “The average age in our region is 32.7, and that’s according to one of our previous censuses.” He added that 2.8 per cent of the region’s population is 65+ and 31 per cent is 24 or younger.
Scott said he expressed serious concerns about the vaccine age qualifications to provincial officials.
In a statement released on Wednesday, Scott thanked Premier Kenney, Minister Shandro, and the Government of Alberta for listening to the concerns and making the decision to allocate additional vaccines and adjust the eligibility guidelines.
“I’d also like to thank Indigenous leadership for championing this issue and pushing our situation to the forefront for the betterment of all our people,” said Scott. “This is a step in the right direction, but there is still much progress to be made. Our region continues to see rapid growth of cases and the vaccine is just one part of the solution. Everyone has a role to play and must continue to follow all public health guidelines to help keep our communities safe.”
Fort McMurray – Lac La Biche MLA Laila Goodridge echoed Mayor Scott’s sentiments in a statement provided by the UCP Caucus.
“I have been actively working with the Minister of Health and Premier’s Office throughout this third wave to try and find the best possible solution for the residents of this region,” she said. “I welcome the news that we will see a targeted approach to the concerning spike in COVID-19 cases. Lowering the age of eligibility and increasing access to vaccines is a step in the right direction, but there’s still more work to be done.”
Fort McMurray’s Rapid Flow Through Clinic at MacDonald Island continues to offer walk-in vaccinations for those eligible for the AstraZeneca shot. Alternatively, appointments can be booked through Alberta Health Services.
The province also plans to set up immunization clinics at work camps in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo upon the arrival of the Janssen doses.
During a press conference earlier this week, Premier Kenney said one reason for the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the region could be attributed to people socializing without taking proper precautions at work camps.
Several oilfield camps are on Alberta’s COVID-19 outbreak list. Doyle told council that COVID-19 cases at oilsands sites are not included in the RMWB case count, but that more than 200 local cases are linked to oilsands outbreaks.