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What you need to know about COVID-19: August 7, 2020
An outbreak of COVID-19 in a southern Alberta county could be related to a funeral for three Hutterite girls who drowned last month, Alberta Health said Friday.
The province said it’s possible the novel coronavirus was transmitted at the funeral for teenage cousins Naomi Waldner, Martha Waldner and Linda Waldner, members of the Spring Valley Hutterite Colony who went missing June 10 after a boating accident on the St. Mary River.
Rescue crews found the bodies of two of the teens the next day, and the third body was retrieved nearly 40 kilometres downstream a week later.
“That funeral was a tragic event and there was strong community support for those affected by the loss,” said Alberta Health spokesman Tom McMillan.
“It is possible that COVID-19 exposure occurred at this funeral, and we are working on communication to all colonies in the Prairies to ensure heightened surveillance for COVID-19 symptoms and precautions to promote health and safety. This is similar to what we have done with other communities and groups.”
However, George Waldner, the minister for the Spring Valley Hutterite Colony, denied that any members of the colony had tested positive for the coronavirus when reached by Postmedia Friday.
“I really don’t know of any cases,” Waldner said. “Everybody’s busy, everybody’s happy, everybody’s working. Nobody’s sick. I don’t know where this story comes from.
“There’s nobody sick out here … nobody’s reported any flus or nothing.”
Waldner added that he’s unaware of any COVID-19 testing taking place on the colony but said members are following public-health rules, including keeping a two-metre distance from others.
The County of Warner, just east of the Spring Valley colony, currently has 39 active COVID-19 cases, enough to put the county of about 11,000 people on “watch” status, meaning public-health officials are monitoring the outbreak in the area and assessing whether further measures need to be put in place. It’s the only region in Alberta currently under a watch.
Public-health officials have identified the source for all cases in the region, McMillan said.
“The recent cases in County of Warner are all linked to known sources and stem largely from a small number of gatherings in large families or social groups,” he said.
“The few colonies with individual cases in Alberta are working closely with AHS and Alberta Health. Health officials are in close contact with all those impacted to limit spread and protect the public health. Contact tracing and testing are underway of anyone who may be at risk. We are not releasing specifics about locations in order to maintain patient confidentiality.”
In mid-June, when the third Hutterite girl’s body was found, a member of the colony speaking to Postmedia on the condition of anonymity said the loss had reverberated through the tight-knit and deeply religious community.
“It’s a big loss, especially to the families, but they’ve got closure now,” the colony member said.
“It’s going to be a loss that’s going to be felt for a long time.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020