'Extremely frustrating': Edson mayor raises concerns after not being told about COVID-19 variant outbreak in community

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The Mayor of Edson is voicing his frustrations over being left in the dark about a COVID-19 variant outbreak at a worksite in the community over the long weekend.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, tweeted Saturday there was a “significant outbreak” in Alberta of the P.1 variant of COVID-19 first identified in Brazil. She did not say where the outbreak occurred in the province. On Monday, she tweeted that 26 cases, including three variant cases, were linked to three connected worksites. Again, she did not say what communities the outbreaks were located in. She said the number of variant cases is expected to increase in the coming days.

Hinshaw also announced an unrelated outbreak of the variant in the Calgary Zone on Monday.

A statement provided to Postmedia on Monday by PTW Energy Services chief operating officer Kerri Beuk confirmed the outbreak was linked to his company and were at worksites in Edson, Drayton Valley and Hinton. An Alberta Health Services letter sent to Postmedia said cases from March 20 to present day are being investigated and employees who have been at various PTW sites should get tested even if they do not have symptoms of COVID-19.

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Edson Mayor Kevin Zahara said he should have been told over the long weekend that the outbreak was in his community.

“Of course, we saw that tweet that came out on Saturday, not everybody’s on Twitter, I found that really concerning that tweet was sent out saying, Oh, we have a serious situation, but we’re not going to provide you with any details,” said Zahara Tuesday. “Three days after the fact and I’m learning about this in the media was extremely frustrating.”

Zahara noted the location of the outbreaks would still not be public if it wasn’t for the company choosing to be transparent. He said that as of 11 a.m. Tuesday morning he had not yet had contact with Alberta Health Services (AHS) or Alberta Health. He had spoken to his local MLA.

“There is a variant case, this was a long weekend. We had zero active cases in Edson just a few weeks ago,” said Zahara. “So people were easing off on the restrictions. For sure, folks, we’re having some gatherings over the Easter long weekend, having known that one variant was in our community, they may have made a different choice.”

Requests for comment sent to Alberta Health Services and Alberta Health were not returned Tuesday afternoon. On Monday, Alberta Health spokesman Tom McMillan told Postmedia the locations were not released publicly due to patient confidentiality.

Zahara said he understands the need for privacy but noted the community has an emergency management committee and they may have issued different warnings or advice had they known the variant was in the community.

This is not the first time a municipal leader has criticized AHS for not providing timely information. Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Mayor Don Scott said in January that the agency was not forthcoming with information about outbreaks at workplaces in the area, notably among oilsand worksites.

Alberta Health is generally responsible for publicly providing information on COVID-19 outbreaks in the province.

dshort@postmedia.com

— With files from Anna Junker, Lauren Boothby and Vincent McDermott

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