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Coronavirus: Calgary playgrounds closed, homeless plan, non compliance – City briefing March 23

Calgary is closing all city playgrounds, hoping to stop further spread of the coronavirus through kids’ close contact and grasping high-touch surfaces.

Calgary’s Emergency Management Agency Chief Tom Sampson made the announcement Monday.

Sampson said that adults can generally keep in mind spacing in the outdoors and to limit their handling of high touch surfaces.

“But, unfortunately our kids do not. They only know how to play together; generally playing together means they’re going to be tight together, and they’re going to do their thing,” said Sampson.

“It’s just not healthy. It’s not a great place for kids to be where they’re going to co-mingle. Those of us that have watched kids play, they don’t have any sense of distancing, nor do they have the sense of contact with high touch areas.”

Sampson said that city parks will remain open.

He wants Calgary adults to model the proper distancing when outside. Sampson said he did go out this weekend and he said he saw larger groups of people walking in tighter bundles.

“It shouldn’t take me or it shouldn’t take the premier, the mayor, the Prime Minister, to tell you that… physical distancing is the right thing. Nobody should have to point their fingers at you,” he said.

Extra measures being put in place for Calgary homeless population

Sampson reiterated that the city has concerns about protecting the city’s homeless population, so plans are being executed right now.

He said they’re reducing the populations in the city’s homeless shelters so they can spread them out and give them the required social distancing. They’re trying to reduce the number in shelters by 400.

They’ve been working with Alberta Health Services on a plan in case of infection in the city’s homeless population. Sampson said that may represent placement in a hotel or he said the Calgary Stampede board has said they could make one of their facilities available.

“I can’t emphasize for you enough how much and how important it is we keep the spread of COVID out of the homeless community,” Sampson said.

Transit service still running with some changes

Calgary Transit GM Doug Morgan said they’re maintaining service, recognizing that there are still people relying on it to get to work, especially in some of those critical areas like health services and also those in the grocery stores.

According to the Calgary Transit website, starting March 23, many bus routes will have fewer trips throughout the day. There may be longer wait times due to the removal of a trip.

Starting March 30, the Red Line and Blue Line will be reducing service. More information is on the Calgary Transit website.

“All of our technology and apps give Calgarians the latest information. So, they may be seeing a one or two-minute delay between their expected bus, but we’re on top of that, and certainly, our communication channels are open,” Morgan said.

For the latest on bus routes, riders are encouraged to use the Calgary Transit app. Health precautions started earlier (rear entry on buses) and honour system for tickets, are still in effect.

Morgan also said they’re doing regular cleaning and sanitizing of Calgary Transit buses and train cars.

Outdoors is good, just don’t drive somewhere to get there

“It’s OK to get some fresh air. It’s OK to get some exercise,” said Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

“But you have to be smart about it.”

The mayor said stay close to your home – even when venturing out.

“Don’t drive somewhere to go walk, just walk near home. And that way we can avoid the overcrowding at some of our more popular places, and you get a chance to discover your neighborhood a little bit more,” he said.

He reiterated the physical distancing requirement. Two metres, he said. It’s not rude if you have to cross the street to avoid someone coming to you.

He also said don’t pet anyone’s dog. And don’t let them pet yours.

“That is a way that we can end up inadvertently getting into close contact,” Nenshi said.

Non-compliance with business, public health rules

Sampson said he’s aware of 36 businesses “that were dealt with” over the weekend in regard to being open or not following large group rules. He said that follow up was done by AHS.

Other jurisdictions around the country have imposed penalties for those individuals and businesses not complying with the public health rules. Sampson said there’s still nothing formally in place in Alberta for enforcement as there are still ongoing discussions.

“Our first stage, it’s not enforcement. Our first stage is education,” Sampson said.

“I hope we don’t get to a place where we have to use enforcement to do that.”

Sampson did thank those who were following the rules.

“You are saving lives and making the sacrifices and that makes you a hero,” he said.

“To those of you who defy the advice that every level of government has given, and every news channel in the world, frankly, is covering, you are a danger. I mean that. You are a danger.”