Central Alberta has seen a significant surge in COVID-19 cases over the past month, jumping from the low single digits in early July to 252 active cases as of Friday.
The central health zone, which includes the communities of Two Hills, Red Deer and Rocky Mountain House, has also seen concentrated outbreaks in the past week in two "local geographic areas" (or LGAs) in particular.
There are 132 LGAs across the province, areas designated by Alberta Health as smaller areas of its larger health zones. As of Friday, the LGAs of Starland County/Drumheller and Viking rank at the top of the list province-wide.
In Starland County/Drumheller, active cases jumped from 19 on July 29 to 71 on July 30. That number puts the area at the very top of Alberta's list of active cases by health area.
More than 50 cases were identified in Starland County alone on Thursday. Only eight cases are currently active in Drumheller.
At number two is the Viking LGA, located northeast of Red Deer. That area's numbers — listed as seven active cases on July 27 — shot up to 69 on July 30.
Two outbreaks are currently listed by Alberta Health in the central zone — at the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre and at the Waskasoo Kiwanis Towers, also in Red Deer. None, however, are currently listed in Starland County/Drumheller and Viking.
Tom McMillan, a spokesperson with Alberta Health, said in all cases, health officials conduct contact tracing, and anyone at risk of exposure is being contacted, isolated and tested.
"We cannot comment on specific cases due to patient confidentiality. The cases are largely linked to known contacts and gatherings," McMillan said in an email. "Alberta Health officials are in contact with Alberta Health Services and local partners and watching the situation closely."
The town of Viking, located southeast of Edmonton, has a population of 1,083, according to the 2016 census. The Viking LGA also includes communities surrounding the town in Beaver County.
It is part of the Beaver County municipal district, which is currently under a "watch" designation by Alberta Health, which means the area has risen above 50 active cases per 100,000 people.
With 71 active cases in the region out of a population of 10,191, it is considered to have an active case rate of 696 per a population of 100,000.
Prabhleen Kaur, who works at the Viking Lamplighter Motel, said she hopes that the virus doesn't spread further.
"People who work at the hospital are especially [anxious]," Kaur said. "They just don't want to spread it more."
The municipal district of Starland County is located just north of Drumheller, and includes the villages of Morrin, Delia and Munson, among other hamlets and localities.
With 63 cases out of a population of 1,928, the district is listed as a "watch" area, with a striking active case rate of 3,268 per 100,000 population.
At the Morrin Foods general store, employee Nora Taylor said the village is home to a number of seniors, but also a number of middle-aged and young families.
"You know, we're very, very careful. We use masks, and use gloves and handwashing," Taylor said.
Just east of Morrin is the village of Delia, population 216. The mayor of that community, David Sisley, said the community has followed all protocols dictated by the province.
"We've had no cases here at all. As far as the county is concerned, it's such a big area that we're not really aware of what goes on in other areas unless they tell us," Sisley said.
"I think everybody's anxious, more or less, to have it over."
The town of Drumheller was under a watch as of July 30, but that was downgraded to "open" status as of July 31.
There are currently eight active cases in the community, meaning it currently has an active case rate of 88.8 per a population of 100,000.
Alberta reported one more COVID-19 death on Friday and 127 new cases of the illness. McMillan said that it was important to remember that the virus is still with us.
"The best way to protect yourself is by practicing physical distancing, wash your hands, stay home if sick, and following all the other public health guidance available," he said. "That's the most effective way to protect both yourself and your family, friends, and neighbours."