Calgary has triggered its municipal emergency plan as it continues to elevate its response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
As of 1:45 p.m., the city’s plan was enacted, providing the Calgary Emergency Management Agency the flexibility to act without certain bureaucratic barriers.
This comes as Alberta announced four new COVID-19 cases, all from Calgary. The province’s emergency management cabinet committee also adopted the recommendation from Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, to enact the cancellation of large gatherings of more than 250 people.
City manager David Duckworth said their top priority is maintaining the health, safety and well-being of their employees and the public. He said, however that all city facilities remain open at this time.
Duckworth said they will be taking certain measures to protect the city’s workforce. As of Friday, city staff that can work remotely will do so. Further, the city has implemented a travel ban for employees. More actions may be taken.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is a dynamic and rapidly evolving situation,” Duckworth said.
“It’s important that we balanced the seriousness of the measures we are taking with a risk of infection, which is still quite low.”
Don’t call 911 for health help, said Chief Sampson
CEMA Chief Tom Sampson said the city’s emergency management plan was last enacted during a fall 2019 snowstorm. It allows them to access various civic resources and speed decision making, he said.
Sampson said that they are confident in the measures being laid out by Alberta Health. He acknowledged that it may take some time for people to get through to 811, but asked that citizens not use 9-1-1 as an alternative.
“We’re seeing people do that. And they cannot give you the answers you need,” Sampson said.
“We need you to allow us to focus on the emergency, the health and safety calls that 911 should truly get.”
Sampson said under the direction of Alberta Health Services (AHS), they’ve temporarily closed the Devonian Gardens and the James Short Park for cleaning and he expects to have them reopened by the weekend.
In line with the province’s direction on large gatherings, Sampson said city events – including planned Green Line engagement this weekend, which he said attract a large contingent of seniors – will be postponed.
He told Calgarians to expect the situation to worsen.
“All we know is there will be more (cases). By taking these actions now, we’re pushing down on the spread of the COVID-19 virus and that’s an important step,” he said.
Nenshi tested after India trip return
Mayor Naheed Nenshi reiterated Sampson’s suggestion there would be more cases.
“This is going to get worse. There will certainly be more cases. And we will have serious cases,” he said.
“But there’s no reason to panic.
“As we watch cancellation of events around the world, as we see the social media posts, as we see the inexplicable lineups at the grocery stores for toilet paper, it’s easy to get very, very nervous. And it’s easy and correct to be looking for answers.”
Nenshi said they’re trying to keep everyone safe. He said some may see their actions as going too far.
“This may seems like an overreaction. Maybe it is. It’s an intentional over-reaction.”
The mayor shared that upon his return from a recent trip to India, he had the sniffles. He called 811, went through his symptoms with the nurse on the line, and she said he didn’t need to be tested.
“It’s a very fluid situation,” he cautioned.
“That’s why we’re taking this intentional overreaction now.”
One of the things city council will be doing different is splitting up their cohort at Monday’s meeting. Half will physically be there, half will be dialling in from another location.
He said they’ll be experimenting with different ways to do meetings and potentially remote public hearings.