Edmonton rec centres to remain open for now; large events cancelled and COVID-19 task team created

The City of Edmonton announced Friday that public recreation centres would remain open for now but it is stopping all programs that involve large numbers of people.

“Eliminating programming and we’re continuing to monitor that situation and we’ll do that on a regular basis,” Interim City Manager Adam Laughlin said. “Edmonton transit, we’re continuing to take efforts to heighten the disinfecting and clearing to ensure the safety of our employees and the public.”

The city is cancelling all events with more than 250 people, in compliance with the provincial chief medical officer of health’s recommendations.

The city is also postponing all public engagement meetings. City staff will temporarily work from home and use virtual meetings, whenever possible.

“We are targeting a reduction of the mass gathering component and encouraging social distancing to ensure we’re minimizing the direct impact,” Laughlin said.

Programs that happen in Edmonton City Hall will be suspended. City hall itself will remain open but that status will be monitored.

“If workers are feeling symptomatic, they should not come in to work,” Laughlin said.

Laughlin said business travel within Canada and abroad has been suspended for all city employees and that all staff are asked to self-isolate for two weeks if they have been out of the country.

City council suspended regularly scheduled council and committee meetings and public hearings until March 30.

All seniors programs will be cancelled, city officials said Friday. By Sunday, all city-run senior centres will be closed.

“Our approach, I would call responsive but proactive. So any direction or advice provided by Alberta Health or Alberta Health Services, we are prepared and will action accordingly,” Laughlin said.

During a Friday council meeting called specifically to discuss the novel coronavirus, administration said it didn’t believe there is a need for a local state of emergency.

“We empowered ourselves to meet virtually if necessary, for up to six or seven weeks, and also to suspend meetings in the short term,” Mayor Don Iveson said about council.

The city will create a COVID-19 task team. Program and operational decisions will be made in conjunction with the task team.

Future scenario planning is also underway, which will include how priority services will be maintained through changing circumstances.

When asked about using public transit, Laughlin said: “There is some judgement certainly, and folks need to exercise that judgement.

“Transit is a critical service for folks to move around the city. It is a vital service we have for Edmontonians. I would encourage individuals to exercise caution.

“In those scenarios, the advice on social distancing — through Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services — is two metres. It’s one to three, but typically a two-metre window or buffer.

“So there are cases where that can’t be achieved. So we just encourage Edmontonians to use caution at this time.

“We’re proactively taking the steps to clean, sanitize transit. If Alberta Health Services or Alberta Health take a step that’s even more restrictive in terms of use of transit systems, we’re in a position to respond.”

Iveson said there may be budget implications but that’s what reserve funds are for and that public safety and public health must come first.

“Understanding they’ll be some budget implications, we have to put our employees and our public safety first,” Laughlin echoed.

Edmonton Public Libraries said Friday morning they were suspending all classes and events to help limit the spread of COVID-19. The decision was made in consultation with the city, EPL said.

On Thursday, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said there were 23 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the province. Dr. Deena Hinshaw also announced the province is taking aggressive measures to address the spread of the coronavirus, including urging the cancellation of all public gatherings involving 250 people or more.

Alberta Health also urged Albertans not to travel outside Canada.

Hinshaw said the measure does not apply to places of worship, airports or shopping centres. At this time, Hinshaw said, schools and daycares can remain open but schools are urged to not have more than 250 students in one room at any given time.

Discussions with Alberta Health Services and the city are ongoing in terms of how to plan for risks associated with vulnerable Edmontonians amid the pandemic, including people who use homeless shelters.

Iveson said he’s heard local businesses are also worried about the economic impact.

“I think that there’s perhaps almost the same amount of anxiety about the economic situation as there is about the public health situation and obviously they’re linked… markets don’t like uncertainty.”

The mayor said it is a tense time but believes Edmonton will band together.

“Social distancing doesn’t mean that we cut ourselves off from each other; it means we maintain a respectful distance and that we work from home and take other measures to reduce the spread of disease.

“That doesn’t mean we become anti-social. If anything, we need to be more social than ever while we socially distance physically from each other,” Iveson said.

“It’s a very tense time, no doubt. A tense time for decision makers… it’s a tense time for business, we’re hearing that loud and clear.

“I also feel really really well supported by council, that was very thoughtful this morning, and very well supported by city administration that really gets it and has been really on top of this and very open and communicative both to decision-makers and to the public. And I’m buoyed by my sense of how Edmontonians respond in a crisis.

“We will be tested by this, but we will get through it together.”

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