A new initiative, the Foothills COVID-19 Hub, is underway in the municipality of Foothills, which includes the Town of High River. Many people are involved with this initiative to get it put together and up and running quickly.

“It's starting to give me a ton of comfort. We can handle it. It's not going to be easy and everybody's got a role to play in this. We'll get though this,” stated High River Mayor Craig Snodgrass, during his weekly COVID-19 Facebook update last week.

“The primary goal of all of this is to keep this virus out of our long-term care centres and out of our hospital, as much as we possibly can,” Snodgrass added. The High River Hospital's second floor, Snodgrass noted at the time, had two positive cases from residents, as of April 16. As of April 14, in Foothills County there were 126 cases of COVID-19 reported with 118 active and eight reported as recovered. In the Town of High River, there were 87 cases of COVID-19 reported with 85 active and two reported as recovered. These were geospatial statistics taken from the Alberta COVID-19 website at alberta.ca/ coronavirus-info-for-albertans.

(Editor’s note: To show how quickly th e numbers can and will change, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported April 17 there have been 358 cases linked to Cargill beef packing plant. For High River alone there were 207 cases, three covered and one death.)

Recent COVID-19 cases reported at the Cargill meat processing facility is not a “Cargill virus,” the mayor noted. 

“This is not the time to be blaming Cargill for anything. This virus came into their staff from outside, just like it comes into every country,” Snodgrass said. “Let's not be blaming any of their employees for this. We need to support these people. They live in our community. We need their assistance and we need to support these folks, so they have the resources in order to stay home and take care of themselves and their families.”

During the week of April 16, the mayor noted he did indeed throw a “grenade” out to local and provincial media to get the attention of the Alberta government with what is going on in the community. 

“We got it out there and we got attention.”

Snodgrass said the municipality does not have the ability to monitor individuals diagnosed with COVID-19, which was an initial misunderstanding. “We have no interest in doing that, because those are privacy issues and everything else and we don't have the resources to be going and monitoring people. That's their (Alberta Health Services) responsibility and we expect them to take this seriously and do their monitoring.” Doctors in town connected to patients diagnosed with COVID-19 will also be responsible for monitoring, it was added.

High River quickly became an epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak in the province, Snodgrass explained. And this was cause of concern, especially when AHS wasn't seeming to respond.

“I was trying to go through the proper channels with our MLA Roger Reid. Roger was doing everything in his power to get some connections made. It's very disturbing to me, at the end of the day, I was able to - through other channels I triggered - I was able to get connected with these folks in Edmonton directly with the Ministry of Health before our MLA was,” said Snodgrass. “That is deeply disturbing to me.”

As for the cases of COVID-19 reported in High River, Snodgrass said, the number doesn't matter anymore. “The number's big enough and if you're looking for a number, the AHS website and geospatial mapping - there's your number. You've got to realize the number that is on that website - it is old compared to what is actually on the ground in High River.”

“I'm not trying to make people panic, but you need the correct information and you need to understand what reality is to make your own decisions,” he said.

Snodgrass said the Foothills COVID-19 Hub is the big piece doctors are putting together, because the big worry was: “How are we going to monitor this situation? How are we going to know these people are taken care of? How are we going to know AHS is taking care of these people?”

“Because it's so big. This isn't just High River, this is across the province and across the country,” said Snodgrass.

There is going to be two pieces to the recently announced Foothills COVID-19 Hub, according to the mayor.

“The doctors' area, right now, it's being planned we're opening up the Culture Centre to this use. This is where the doctors can have direct contact with their patients. The Town has nothing to do with monitoring. We don't want lists of people, we want nothing to do with that. That is not our role. That has to be done privately and respectfully. They're the doctors and through AHS,” he said. “That's what this COVID-19 hub will do.”

Snodgrass said 90 per cent of this can be done virtually, whether it's over the phone or through other technological means. “This allows the doctors the resources to be able to connect directly with these cases and provide them the support, resources, and the education and to be able to stress how important it is to stay at home. The doctors can take care of these people.”

According to the mayor, the second purpose and separate part of the hub will be to offer COVID-19 testing. The testing site was within the High River Hospital, but doctors wanted to get sick people out of the hospital. “We want to keep the hospital clean,” Snodgrass said. “AHS has stepped in and High River is priority Number One in the Calgary Region. And they are setting up a separate testing site in one of their other buildings they own in High River.”

“Those people feeling symptoms can go there to get tested, which is safe and out of our other areas. It's fantastic. That also allows our doctors to not be swabbing people, but focusing on the support mechanisms and the monitoring of those that are ill,” he added.

Snodgrass thanks AHS for putting a priority on the recent developments in High River. “Because it happened quick and it's happening now.”

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