Sylvan Lake is beefing up enforcement along its waterfront and will close parking lots once they’re full for the day in an effort to avoid a repeat of last weekend’s dangerous overcrowding.
The waterfront area was near capacity last Saturday, with little physical distancing between beach-goers, raising alarms that the situation was ripe for spreading COVID-19.
Alberta’s medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, expressed her concern that people were relaxing their guard.
“I am very concerned about reports of people not following physical distancing, for example, on beaches, as we saw this last weekend. I’m concerned about people who are feeling public health measures are no longer important,” Hinshaw said during Thursday’s daily COVID update.
Sylvan Lake Mayor Sean McIntyre said on Friday the town has been working with law enforcement, health officials and Alberta Environment and Parks to find ways to more safely welcome visitors.
“Our central message is enjoy Sylvan Lake responsibly,” said McIntyre. “There are not enough government measures to take, to police everyone, and look over everyone’s shoulders.
“So, really, first and foremost, we need everyone to act responsibly and take their health into consideration, as well as the health of those around them.
“Personal responsibility is going to be key in this.”
More police, peace and bylaw officers will be patrolling the lakeshore this weekend, reminding the public of physical distancing requirements and handing out tickets if necessary.
Only health officials and the RCMP have the authority to enforce the public health orders.
Additional signs have been posted to reinforce public health orders and free masks will be handed out to those who need them.
Once full, the town’s parking lots, which have about 500 spaces, will be closed until 6 p.m. and town staff will be on hand to ensure newcomers are turned away.
Electronic signs are also being posted on the highways coming into town to remind the public to take health precautions. The signs will be changed to alert drivers when the town’s parking lots are full.
McIntyre hopes that those who arrive at Sylvan Lake or any of Alberta’s popular recreation spots and find them full will move on to another place where there are fewer visitors.
Premier Jason Kenney made a passing reference to the crowded beach on Friday, when he was announcing a $120-million highway-twinning project between Sylvan Lake and Rocky Mountain House.
“Many Albertans know about Sylvan Lake’s amazing beaches — as I said, perhaps a few too many, in these times of COVID, as we saw last weekend — and I know the mayor has got that under control.”
A follow-up meeting with health officials and others will be held after the weekend to discuss whether the measures taken were effective in making the beach a safer place to visit or whether additional restrictions are needed.
Health officials have expressed concern that COVID cases are on the rise. On Thursday, Alberta hit 120 cases, the first time since May 2 that the province had more than 100 cases.
Hinshaw said COVID numbers typically reflect what happened a week or two earlier, meaning the impact of Sylvan Lake’s crowded beach may not yet be apparent.