RCMP have charged two people after a massive house party on St. Patrick's Day in Banff that violated Alberta's guidelines on public gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Staff Sgt. Michael Buxton-Carr says two people were issued $1,200 fines under Alberta's Public Health Act for allowing an indoor event at a duplex on Wolf Street.
Callers to police reported a large, noisy party with up to 100 people.
"By the time our officers arrived, they did think there [were] at least 50 people associated to the residence, indoors and outdoors," Buxton-Carr said.
He said police could tell by the reactions of some of the people at the party that they knew they were violating public-health rules.
"There was a bit of a mass exodus. People are running away and jumping off the porch and climbing fences and rapidly making themselves be elsewhere."
Buxton-Carr said police were primarily concerned with the noise and the violations of COVID-19 public health rules.
Recent surge in cases in Banff and area
Banff follows the same COVID-19 public health restrictions set out by the Alberta government. Under the current restrictions, indoor social gatherings are limited to household members only and outdoor social gatherings can have up to 10 people, but must follow all public health rules about masks and physical distancing. The rules are enforceable with $1,000 fines.
Banff reported six COVID-19 cases on March 22 but it more than tripled to 23 by March 30 — including multiple cases of the more dangerous and transmissible variants of concern.
The mountain town — which had an estimated population of nearly 10,000 before the pandemic — had previously seen a high of nearly 200 active COVID-19 cases in November, with some blaming Halloween parties as a contributing factor.
The wider area of Banff and Lake Louise has 35 active cases, including 12 new cases on March 31 alone.
The province as a whole has also seen weeks of surging COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and cases involving variants of concern — which hit a new record high on Wednesday.
Alberta reported 871 new cases of COVID-19 and three additional deaths on Wednesday. That brings the number of active cases in the province to 8,350 — more than double a low of just over 4,000 in February and the highest count since Jan. 25.
4 tickets issued at another party
Four other people have also been issued tickets in relation to an unrelated indoor gathering in Banff on March 24, this one on Muskrat Street.
"That was not on the same scale as the one from St. Patrick's Day, but it was certainly a blatant violation of the health order," Buxton-Carr said.
Alberta hit a new record high of cases involving variants of concern on Wednesday. There are currently 2,660 active variants of concern cases, accounting for 31.9 per cent of active cases.
Buxton-Carr says police and municipal enforcement are actively working to shut down large gatherings in Banff and encouraged people to report house parties or large gatherings by calling the 24-hour non-emergency line at 403-762-2226.
"We understand that people are frustrated with the pandemic, but the closer we get towards it [ending], then the more important it is that we remain vigilant," he said.
RCMP encourage people to call them when a gathering that violates public health rules is happening so they can try to safeguard the public.
Buxton-Carr said the investigation into the St. Patrick's Day party is ongoing and further tickets could be issued.