A server wears a mask at a restaurant, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

A server wears a mask at a restaurant, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Health officials receive thousands of COVID-related complaints

About 800 to 1,000 people call health officials weekly

Thousands of central Albertans have lodged complaints with officials related to potential COVID-19 related health infractions.

Since May, more than 34,000 complaints or service requests — 3,575 from the central zone as of last week — had been received by Alberta Health Services.

In response, 10 orders were issued in the central zone since the chief officer of medical health’s first orders were issued in March, eight of which have since been rescinded.

The orders are not necessarily closure orders. Work orders can also be issued, which requires recipients to undertake some changes to be back in compliance.

“We always seek to work with operators prior to issuing orders; however, when businesses are unable to meet these requirements, we are left with no choice but to issue closure orders,” says Alberta Health Services in an email response to queries.

Orders are issued when immediate risk to public health is identified, says AHS. Inspections for COVID-19 compliance measures are done based on complaints from the public and referrals from other agencies.

The frequency of inspections depends on the number of complaints, the severity of infractions and whether follow up is required to ensure concerns have been addressed.

“Any actions taken by AHS depend on the severity of risk to the public, and the compliance history at the facility.”

In Calgary, a city lounge was shut down last week after an inspection revealed violations such as a lack of Plexiglas barriers along the bar and other physical distancing infractions.

Closures are rare because AHS prefers to work with businesses to help them comply with the latest health orders, says the agency.

A Biz Connect website provides information business owners and employees might need to protect thmselves and their customers.

Those who have concerns about a business or any facility accessible to the public can fill out an online complaint through the AHS environmental public health office at https://ephisahs.albertahealthservices.ca or by calling 1-833-415-9179. Enforcement orders are also posted online by AHS.

Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce CEO Rick More said the concerns he hears most from the business community are inconsistencies in what are considered the “proper guidelines” that all are supposed to follow.

“We have many businesses going all out with protective barriers, masks and hygiene practices,” he said.

Despite these measures, Edmonton and Calgary are seeing infection numbers climb, suggesting the spreading risk is not coming from businesses.

“Let’s find out once and for all whether it is public or private gatherings (leading to the spread of cases),” he said.

AHS says there was a spike in provincial complaints in the week ending March 23, when about 2,500 were received. Over the last several weeks, about 800 to 1,000 complaints have been received weekly.

“It is hard to pinpoint the reason for this, as there are likely many factors,” says AHS.