Alberta’s top doctor is reminding Albertans not only to keep practicing social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, but also to respect those who are tasked with enforcing the recommendations.
“I have heard reports that over last weekend in several provincial parks, these park staff were subjected to verbal abuse and aggressive behaviours at places like Gull Lake, Kananaskis and Wabamun [Lake], when they did their job to enforce public safety measures,” Hinshaw said on Thursday.
“This is not how to treat people who are doing their part to keep our parks as safe and healthy places to visit.”
According to Alberta Environment and Parks, several provincial parks, public areas and beaches have seen overcrowding this summer, particularly at Wabamun Lake Provincial Park west of Edmonton and Aspen Beach Provincial Park on Gull Lake in central Alberta, and Mount Yamnuska and Grassi Lakes in Kananaskis.
“In some popular areas and beaches — although not in Kananaskis Country so far — we have seen verbal and even physical abuse against staff and other visitors,” the department said in an emailed statement.
“This is simply unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Capacity limits and temporary closures of overcrowded areas may be necessary to protect public safety.”
Albertans were also told to read up on beach and trail conditions before heading out, to make sure they’re prepared.
“Above all, we need visitors to be respectful and follow the directions of parks and lands staff and emergency services,” AEP said. “They are there to help, and they deserve our cooperation in making beaches and parks safe for everyone.”
Hinshaw also said people should have a back-up plan if they’re heading to a beach or other popular Alberta attraction, in case they arrive to find their destination is already crowded or full.
“As always, remember that in taking these steps, you are protecting everyone around you, including those who are at higher risk of severe outcomes from the virus.”
“I also want to remind us all that those who have responsibility for keeping us safe, like provincial park staff, should be treated with respect when they are doing their job.”
Hinshaw stressed that “physical distancing works” in combating the spread of the virus, which is why it’s the approach adopted in Canada.
“The farther apart you are, the safer you are,” she said. “It isn’t always easy, but it is important wherever you go this weekend — whether it’s to the beach, a hiking trail or an activity indoors — please stay two metres apart from others.”
Hinshaw said health officials had meetings this week with the municipalities of Alberta Beach, Chestermere and Sylvan Lake after people flocked to the watersides during the warm, sunny weather over the past few weeks.
She said Alberta Health is coming up with a beach guidance document to offer these towns — who are asking for more help on dealing with the crowds — that gives more specifics on what is expected.
“This isn’t something that any one group can do on its own,” she said.
“This isn’t something the province can do on its own. We need to work in partnership with these municipalities and in the provincial parks, with our colleagues in environments and parks, to come up with the right solution.”
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