By Lethbridge Herald on March 18, 2020.
While the risk of infection to Lethbridge residents in the ongoing COVID-19 crisis still remains low, the City of Lethbridge opted to declare a State of Local Emergency on Wednesday afternoon in an effort to access the additional resources and powers it will need as the outbreak intensifies.
“This is an important step in helping Lethbridge access additional resources,” a statement released by the City on Wednesday reads, “particularly to support our vulnerable populations. It also enables local authorities the power to execute special orders in accordance with the Emergency Management Act.”
The City is hoping for more information from the province on emergency funding and other measures to ensure City operations can continue to function smoothly as the COVID-19 outbreak grows.
“There have been some suggestions that additional supports would be available, but we are short on details at this point,” confirmed Mayor Chris Spearman at a press briefing at city hall on Wednesday. “We are waiting to hear what the provincial government and the federal government will announce in terms of specifics. For example, the most vulnerable people are some of the people who are homeless, those using the supervised consumption site, and others. So how do we manage the situation if someone turns out to be positive and is living at the homeless shelter when they are all in close together? The premier has indicated we might be using hotel rooms in the near future to accommodate those needs, but we have no information on that.”
Spearman said he and other mid-size city mayors did have an initial conversation with Premier Kenney about creating a cohesive response to the COVID-19 crisis, and he hoped for more communication and dialogue going forward.
“We had one initial call on Monday with Premier Kenney,” he confirmed. “There were other mid-size city mayors in that call. I am communicating with mid-size city mayors this afternoon, and we are talking about developing questions and building that relationship with the provincial government. In almost any other issue in the past cities like Lethbridge have been left out of the discussions. This is too important for that to occur. The big message is, ‘Don’t forget about us.’”
Spearman hoped the province and federal government would provide details on how they intend to help businesses and families pay their bills as the outbreak continues and people are forced to stay home for an extended period of time.
He also did not rule out local tax relief to help on that front.
“We understand individuals are hurting in terms of their incomes, and we understand businesses in the city are hurting,” he said. “We want to be sensitive to that, but no decisions have yet been made.”
Spearman said citizens should strive to remain calm, get informed and follow the advice of medical professionals to help do their part during these trying times.
“I think things are well in hand, and I think we are fortunate we don’t have a lot of cases in this area yet,” he said. “But, in all honesty, I am expecting that we will … I am confident we have the health resources that are able to deal with that. We need to support each other as a community. We need to find ways we can support our businesses, and we need to find ways we can support people who are going to struggle with self-isolation and people who have challenges in our city: older people, people with physical challenges. We need to make sure everyone is supported.”
City manager Jody Meli said she and her staff continue to monitor the situation closely. Besides the measures already taken, such as opening the Emergency Co-ordination Centre and closing all City-owned public facilities, additional protections were also being introduced for transit drivers.
“We have blocked off seats around the drivers to encourage social distancing,” she said, “and we are asking that riders exit at the back of the bus to minimize contact with our staff.”
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