In the later part of January 2020, a new word entered Karen Mann’s vocabulary.
Coronavirus, or COVID-19 as it’s known more commonly now, didn’t reach most Albertans until a few months later.
For Mann, City of Red Deer’s emergency management coordinator, the high alert hit early last year and it’s been non-stop ever since.
The city started to put a team together at that point, as public health officials began to sound the alarm and the virus was quickly spreading overseas in places like China, Spain and Italy.
Mann said some staff had returned from parts of the world where COVID-19 was becoming more of a threat and residents returning were starting to question the quarantine expectations and how they worked.
Some had also seen the impact of the virus in those areas where they travelled.
Another red flag came when the city tried to order supplies like hand sanitizers.
“It was January and we were trying to get our hands on hand sanitizer refills and dispensers, and some of our big distributors were saying, we don’t have any… we started preparing and really paying close attention in early 2020. Then it ramped up so quickly after that,” Mann said.
Mann has been at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19, since the city recorded its first case one year ago, on March 19.
While Red Deer didn’t have a case until that day, the Emergency Operations Centre was put into place a week earlier, as the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
“We were in place and really working on a lot of the contingency plans and what-if scenarios, which was a challenge because we didn’t have a ton of information at that time, because every level of government was also grappling with what to do,” she said.
“When there was a case announced in Red Deer, it really changed the amount of attention the public was paying to COVID-19. We noticed a lot of uptick in interest from the public.”
Over the course of the summer, cases in Red Deer dipped and people started to get back to somewhat normal lives. In the fall, cases started to spike as students went back to school. The community stayed vigilant during that period, according to Mann.
“Our goal from the very beginning was to ensure the health and safety of Red Deer residents and to help them to help each other stay safe – to help their families stay safe. We were trying our best to be grounded in the information that was coming to us from the Government of Alberta and AHS,” she said.
It wasn’t until about a year later in February when Red Deer saw the worst of COVID-19, when the city hit a high of daily high of 565 cases and there was a large outbreak at the Olymel meat processing plant.
Mann said that was concerning, but credited Red Deerians for recognizing the danger and committing to the provincial health and safety measures.
“Our goal was always to keep the numbers as low as possible and we were really working with the public to provide that information that was coming from Alberta Health Services and Alberta Health, to be able to say, let’s buckle down – let’s band together and keep each other safe. I think our residents did a really good job,” she said.
“When the numbers started going up, I know it was concerning to everybody. With the most recent escalation in case numbers, they did go up quickly, but we also saw them go down really quickly. A lot of credit needs to go to the residents.”
As of Friday, Red Deer has had 33 deaths due to the virus with 101 active cases of the virus, with 2,927 confirmed cases to date and 2,793 recovered cases.
The pandemic is by no means over and Mann knows her job is not yet complete. She does think with vaccines slowly rolling out, hope is on the horizon.
“Everybody just wants to get back to the pre-covid normal. It’s challenging and we feel that too,” Mann said.
“We’re all residents of this community, we have kids and we have activities. It’s tough. The vaccines give us a great deal of hope and the rate at which we’re able to vaccinate people here in the city, it’s going to be great – especially starting with our most vulnerable folks…
“We’re just continuing to encourage our residents to stay the course, follow the measures that are in place, and understand those measures are there for the health and safety of all Red Deerians.”