Lethbridge officials made a public plea for residents to closely follow health orders on Friday, and in an effort to stymie spiking cases of COVID-19 that Mayor Chris Spearman called an "aberration to the provincial trend."
On March 18, Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw specifically referenced Lethbridge as a community that is currently experiencing "concerning new trends" in its case numbers.
Active cases in the city have increased from 196 to 469 since February 25, and are linked to family gatherings, visitation between households and people with mild symptoms who do not stay home or get tested right away, Hinshaw said.
She also cited faith gatherings where masking and distancing is not happening.
It prompted Spearman to call for compliance with public health orders in a virtual press conference on Friday.
"We've been singled out as having behaviours which are contributing to high numbers, and as a community we have to stop that," Spearman said.
"I'm really worried that this situation will get out of control, that our numbers are escalating."
Time to be vigilant
According to Hinshaw, the province is currently at a critical stage in its fight against a third wave of COVID-19.
The race is now on between vaccinations and the highly infectious variant strains of the virus, which currently account for 12 per cent of all active cases in Alberta.
Spearman said the city's current case counts represent a significant increase in three weeks.
The issue in Lethbridge, he said, is one of non-compliance in regards to the province's health regulations, which could be fed by pushback on social media and protests.
"The biggest impact we can have is to stop gathering with those outside of our household," Spearman said. "It's time to be vigilant."
'We can't have both'
Spearman was joined by Lethbridge Police Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh and Marc Rathwell, the chief of fire and emergency services.
When asked how the police service has been enforcing regulations amidst reports of non-compliance, Mehdizadeh said that issuing tickets is not going to stop the virus if a person who is COVID-positive continues to disregard the rules.
"This is not a joke. People are dying every day," Mehdizadeh said.
With the provincial government saying Alberta could move into Stage 3 of its reopening plan as early as March 22 — which would include movie theatres, places of worship and some indoor gatherings — Spearman said Lethbridge needs to closely follow the rules in order to reopen with the rest.
"We want to make sure that we can move forward with the rest of the province … businesses need to be open, and they've been shut down for a long time," Spearman said.
"But we can't have both. We can't have our cake and eat it, too — we can't have unrestricted freedoms and people not honouring the health regulations, and also have our businesses open."
As of the last update, there are currently 5,084 active cases of COVID-19 in the province. Nearly 2,000 Albertans have died.