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South Peace residents struggle to adjust to life under a pandemic

With northern Alberta reporting its first case of coronavirus Monday and 74 cases reported in Alberta as of press time, nearly every aspect of society has been impacted.

With northern Alberta reporting its first case of coronavirus Monday and 74 cases reported in Alberta as of press time, nearly every aspect of society has been impacted.

The Alberta government declared a state of public health emergency Tuesday, cancelling gatherings with more than 50 people.

Seniors homes are among those affected by the pandemic. Grande Spirit Foundation announced it would not be accepting visitors. Steve Madden, Grande Spirit Foundation general manager, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Hythe Pioneer Homes, home to around 80 seniors, also revised its protocols Monday, said Chris Perrin, Hythe & District Pioneer Homes Advisory Committee chairperson.

“We are asking that visits are for essential reasons only and (allow essential visitors) only if they had no contact with persons who have travelled,” Perrin said.

She said whether they can enter “depends on the case.”

Access to the lodge will also be through the main door only, which is locked by 3 p.m., she said.

“There could be further restrictions as the situation evolves,” Perrin added.

Programs involving visitors have been shut down, but she said within the lodge seniors can still have gatherings and eat breakfast and lunch together.

Perrin said she can understand if some seniors are upset, given the lodge received an average of 25 visitors per week.

“We’re not doing this lightly (and) this virus is extremely hard on seniors,” she said.

“Our restraints have been accepted well by families (and) it's a potentially frightening situation.”

She suggested families continue to stay in touch with residents via phone calls.

Some local businesses have taken a hit while others are increasingly busy. The Beaverlodge Hospital Auxiliary Thrift Shop posted on social media Monday it is closed until further notice.

Mark Walker, Beaverlodge IGA manager, said sales in the past week have exceeded what the store would typically see at Christmas.

“On Friday we did twice the volume of Christmas, so now we’re feeling the affects - we’re worn out,” he said.

He said the store has found itself short on various stock, especially personal cleaning products like toilet paper, sanitizer, personal wipes and bleach.

The store receives new stock every two days, he said. On Friday the store received a toilet paper stock of 35 and on Monday 100. The restocked paper sold out in 10 minutes Friday morning and on Monday it was sold out by noon.

“Most of the stores weren’t ready for the rush, labour-wise,” he added.

At Christmastime he said IGA would schedule more people to work at the store, but with the increased volume being unexpected he’s found the store short staffed.

Walker said IGA could adjust to the new normal in one to two weeks, as computer systems forecast the need for stock based on last year’s trends and current trends.

“The automation isn’t keeping up with the demand right now,” he said.

While grocery stores are experiencing a rush, restaurants are facing the opposite challenge.

Brittany Sawatzky, owner of Cowbella’s Café in Sexsmith, said she plans to keep the business open as long as she can but customers through the door have dropped by half.

She said the restaurant typically sees 50 to 60 people come in each day, but now it’s closer to 20.

“We’ve never seen numbers this low,” Sawatzky said.

“It’s scary.” Cowbella’s will try to focus on take-outs in the upcoming days, but she said even those numbers have declined from an average of 20 at lunchtime to one during lunchtime Monday.

Louvy Castro, the owner of Soups in Beaverlodge, said the restaurant is still open Monday to Friday but the volume of people coming through the door has dropped by a third.

Monday typically sees a good crowd of people, she said.

Castro said she intends to keep the restaurant open. “It depends on what happens,” she said.

Many families will find themselves affected if their children are in minor hockey.

Jason Hipkins, Beaverlodge Minor Hockey president, said all Hockey Canada activities such as skates and practices are cancelled.

“We were in the final week of our season for the majority of teams, so it wasn’t a major disruption,” he said. 

“The biggest impact was for the two teams who were going to be going to provincial championships, the Beaverlodge Girls’ Bantam team and Midget team.”

As well, he said an awards night and annual general meeting in April were postponed and the club is waiting for direction from the provincial government and Hockey Canada before resuming.

Post offices are operating with safety measures such as no longer asking for signatures where deliveries at the door are available. Beaverlodge Post Office staff declined to comment on local changes.

Municipalities have also responded.

The city and county of Grande Prairie, Beaverlodge, Sexsmith, Wembley and Hythe are members of the Grande Prairie Regional Emergency Partnership (GPREP) was activated Friday.

GPREP is a formal partnership to manage disaster responses.

Lesley Nielsen-Bjerke, GPREP information officer, said a task force was established with members from each municipality.

The task force includes members from different GPREP sections including the director of emergency management, the planning section and administration, she said. The membership is revolving.

Nielsen-Bjerke said the task force is preparing a pandemic plan laying out steps for municipalities to take during the outbreak.

Brad Quarin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News

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