Edmonton councillors heard an update on the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday at an Emergency Advisory Committee meeting.
Interim City Manager Adam Laughlin gave a presentation to council that outlined the increase in active COVID-19 cases in the Edmonton zone, how the city is planning for a widespread outbreak or possible second wave, compliance rates for the face-covering bylaw, City Hall relaunch and re-examining the face covering exemption card program.
Dr. Chris Sikora, Alberta Health Services Chief Medical Officer of Health for the Edmonton zone, answered councillors’ questions around Edmonton’s rates and mask effectiveness.
Laughlin pointed out that the risk of infection and the number of active cases has been rising in the last two weeks in Edmonton. The city was put on the province’s “watch” list last Friday, he added.
“Our infection rate for 100,000 population is 54.5,” Laughlin said.
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There are currently 17 outbreaks, including at long-term care facilities, a church, commercial and industrial businesses and private gatherings.
“Outbreaks associated with community spread are concerning,” he said.
Administration is working with Alberta Health to understand why local rates are increasing and whether additional health measures or rule changes are required.
“It’s clear from the data that people have not fully adapted their social behaviour to have safe interactions,” Laughlin said.
5-level action plan
The city has a five-level process mapped out that will dictate certain actions and potential closures should the COVID-19 risk escalate.
Right now, the city is Level 1 or “limited risk.” The actions associated with that level are education, health and safety measures and face covering compliance.
Level 2 is “caution.” The actions associated with that level include restrictions/closures to city-owned facilities and altering the City of Edmonton staff return-to-work plan.
If Edmonton hits Level 3 (“restriction”), administration could look to legislative restriction on public spaces – both indoor and outdoor – public transportation, commercial and retail locations.
As administration puts plans in place in case there is a wide-scale outbreak or second wave, it’s planning immediate, short- and long-term actions.
Since Edmonton was placed on Alberta Health’s “watch” status, the city has increased enforcement patrols, collected compliance rates, explored additional cleaning practices, increased emergency meeting frequency, and is planning for possible shut downs of facilities, if needed.
“We hope to never need to escalate the risk level,” Laughlin said, “but the city is ready should the situation change.”
Face mask bylaw
The latest figures show overall compliance for Edmonton’s face-covering bylaw is 96 per cent.
Mask-wearing compliance in community and rec centres is 98.1 per cent, on transit it’s 95 per cent, in public spaces it’s 97 per cent, and in vehicle-for-hire cars it’s 86 per cent.
Laughlin said the city has been hearing more complaints about people not wearing adequate face coverings and people being denied service for not wearing a face mask.
Dr. Sikora was encouraged by the acceptance of this new behaviour that shows “Edmontonians care for one another.”
However, he said it’s really “too early to tell” how effective Edmonton’s face mask bylaw is, one month in.
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Face covering exemption card
After ending its face mask exemption card program after just five days, the city continues to re-examine the issue of giving people who are medically unable to wear a face covering a way to display and explain that.
City staff are engaging with stakeholders and community groups about the reassessment of this program. The city is considering options to add more rigor/assurance to the approval process.
Dr. Sikora said exemption cards are difficult to implement.
In his presentation, Laughlin said the camp near ReMax Field currently has about 170 tents on site, some of which are vacant.
He said the city is working with Homeward Trust, Boyle Street and Bissel Centre on site, looking at solutions and essential infrastructure like showers.
The goal is to ensure a transition to permanent housing solutions.
“I’m at my wit’s end,” Coun. Scott McKeen said.
He said the time has passed for talking about helping those struggling with homelessness and “we must do something now.”
“This is a catastrophe within a pandemic within a crisis,” McKeen said.
“I feel the same way,” Iveson said. “We have been trying methodically for a decade to meet people’s needs” with dignity, using a data-based approach “that we believe will save money.”
Until now, there’s not been enough support for a “housing first” plan from federal or provincial counterparts, Iveson said.
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Iveson and Laughlin are scheduled to speak to media following Thursday afternoon’s Emergency Advisory Committee meeting.
Last week, the mayor said he was concerned with the upward trend of active COVID-19 cases in Edmonton.
“I am concerned as mayor. It’s disappointing because our performance has been so good up to this point. I think perhaps a false sense of security has built up… This is, as Dr. Hinshaw said, a serious wake up call for Edmontonians.”
Alberta confirmed an additional 127 cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, with a total of 1,176 active cases in the province and the majority still in the Edmonton zone. That zone has 625 active cases while there were 362 active cases reported in the Calgary zone.
On Wednesday there were 48 people in hospital, with seven of those people in the ICU.
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