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Innisfail, Penhold fighting back to contain COVID-19

Municipalities across region respond to virus threat
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The closing of all schools in Innisfail and across Alberta and the shutdown of all local recreational facilities have been the most recent major moves to contain the COVID-19 virus.

INNISFAIL – The town and its neighbouring municipalities, along with all major community organizations, have responded to the public health threat of COVID-19 with a multitude of cancellations and suspensions of public events and services.

The municipal suspensions and cancellations preceded the announcement on March 15 by the Alberta government to prohibit student attendance at all K to 12 schools and in-person post-secondary classes.

The Town of Innisfail, along with the Innisfail Public Library and Innisfail Royal Canadian Legion, have all immediately suspended a multitude of local programs and events, including The Boob Tour that had been scheduled for April 1.

Yesterday, the town announced all municipal programs and events will be immediately suspended and all recreational facilities closed to the public until further notice. This includes the Innisfail Arena, the Innisfail Aquatic Centre, the Innisfail Library Learning Centre, the Innisfail Seniors Drop-in Centre and the school gym space — and the programs and events scheduled to take place within them. The Town of Penhold also announced yesterday the Penhold Regional Multiplex is closed until further notice. This includes the Penhold Multiplex Fitness Centre (including 24-hour fob access), Penhold Multiplex Track and the Penhold & District Library. 

“We are taking this (COVID-19) very seriously,” said Todd Becker, the CAO for the Town of Innisfail.

Becker said more measures could be taken this week after town council is briefed on the situation at its special meeting on March 16, as well as any local action that could be deemed urgent through the daily announcements from Alberta Health Services.

“Things are happening very fast here obviously, so it almost seems like it changes by the hour,” said Penhold mayor Mike Yargeau. “I think people need to be paying attention and listening to Alberta Health Services and what they’re saying. I think the province has stepped up and taken charge on this very effectively and tried to get in front of it.”

Despite last week’s widespread urgency by all municipalities to take action at home against the global threat of COVID-19, Jim Wood, the mayor of Red Deer County, insisted there is “no need for panic at this time.

“We are following guidelines regarding large gatherings of people that were recommended by the provincial government and Alberta Health Services,” said Wood. “We encourage people to take proper precautions and stay aware as the situation progresses.”

All major sports organizations announced cancellations and suspensions last week. The Innisfail Eagles’ Allan Cup run was shut down until further notice. Hockey Canada announced that all Hockey Canada-sanctioned activities have been cancelled effective March 13 until further notice. That includes all Red Deer Rustlers and Central Alberta Amazons playoff games at the Penhold Regional Multiplex. The Innisfail Minor Hockey Association cancelled the season, as well as its annual awards night on March 31.

"We could have upwards of 250 people in the legion and we decided, let's err on the side of safety,” said Stephen Bates, president of Innisfail Minor Hockey Association. “We'll probably try and do something at the start of next season to catch up and recognize our players and coaches." Bates noted an Atom B team from Innisfail was scheduled to attend an upcoming provincial tournament in Forestburg and Daysland and a Peewee B team that had a league final and a year-end tournament scheduled, both which are now cancelled.

“In the case of our atom team, they worked hard all year to earn their way to provincials and unfortunately they're not going to get the opportunity to play that out and see where they finished up amongst the province's elite for that age group," said Bates. "It's definitely disappointing for them and for our peewee team that was still going. It's got to be a disappointment that they can't finish up their season with their year-end tournament."

In the meantime, Becker said town staff is preparing a business continuity plan, a “worst-case scenario” option, as well as discussions with external stakeholders such as with the hospital, schools and seniors' housing. He added contingency scenario plan discussions have started to prepare the town for pandemic escalation, and what the town would have to do to maintain emergency service levels if it had to abandon its offices.

According to Alberta’s Provincial Operations Centre for emergencies they have four steps within a pandemic plan, Becker noted. He said the first is surveillance, the second being containment, which the town is now on, while the third is mitigation, with the fourth being recovery.

“If the province moves into a Level 3, mitigation, which is pretty significant, then we would follow suit and respond accordingly, and make adjustments to our operations,” said Becker.

On March 14, the Alberta Provincial Operations Centre elevated its operational level from Level 2 to Level 3.

For a full listing of all local and regional cancellations and suspensions of events, programs and services visit the COVID-19 tab at the top of the home page of