By Lethbridge Herald on March 19, 2020.
The City is preparing to use its emergency powers to do what is necessary to slow the COVID-19 outbreak, and is considering the economic implications to local businesses should the crisis continue for a prolonged period of time.
“It has become clear through our Emergency Co-ordination Centre that we do require additional resources, particularly to support our vulnerable population,” stated City of Lethbridge Director of Emergency Management Marc Rathwell at the City’s daily briefing on the COVID-19 crisis on Thursday.
Rathwell was explaining why it was necessary to declare a State of Local Emergency despite the risk of spread of the disease still being quite low at this time.
“It’s just an evolution, a step up, in terms of our practice and our processes,” he added. “It also enables us on a local level to secure facilities and other resources we might be in need of. This will also help us co-ordinate better with all the other agencies that we will be working with, AHS, and local agencies like the university, college and school boards.”
By declaring the State of Local Emergency the City has also gained emergency powers to support Alberta Public Health’s fight against the virus in whatever way is needed, said Rathwell.
“Specifically, the pieces we were looking for when we enacted the State of Local Emergency was around resourcing,” he explained. “This could be around getting facilities we need and also equipment we need. Some of those resources may also be people … So to do social distancing in, say, a homeless shelter, we are going to need more facilities and more space to spread people out so we can maintain those safe social distances at this time.”
Rathwell said the City’s full Fire and EMS resources were at the ready to ramp up their efforts as needed during this continuing outbreak.
“I will emphasize this: people who have flu-like symptoms; they need to call 811 and/or follow the online reporting structure AHS has developed as you go through the assessment tool online. For all other emergency calls, we are still in business.
“I can confirm all of our fire resources are intact and ready to respond, and we have no decrease in manning on the fire side of our business. For any other public inquiries regarding Fire and EMS, you can contact the City’s 311 information line.”
Mayor Chris Spearman said with the Alberta government stating it expected it would still take four to five weeks before the COVID-19 outbreak peaked in the province, the City was contemplating measures like property tax and utility bill deferrals while the crisis continues.
City council would likely be discussing those measures very soon, he said.
Spearman also predicted the outbreak would likely do significant longer term damage to the local economy and local businesses, and it was time to start planning to help address that.
“Our business community in Lethbridge is already hurting,” he said. “Economic Development Lethbridge has already begun engaging stakeholders about the formation of a focused YQL Economic Recovery Task Force. I expect more details on this initiative will follow in the coming days. It’s essential we find ways to support local businesses throughout this crisis, and throughout the recovery that will follow. Organizations that can help contribute to the work of the task force are invited to contact Trevor Lewington at Economic Development Lethbridge.”
City manager Jody Meli said additional measures had been taken to protect City employees and the public after the State of Local Emergency was declared on Wednesday. These included closing city hall to the public as well as at the transit building. She said staff would also be re-deployed to beef up the 311 Call Centre crew, which is handling the bulk of the inquiries from concerned citizens, and other areas of need within City operations.
“Moving forward, we just need to be nimble as we re-deploy staff in the necessary areas,” she said. “We are continuing to work on that as this changes every single day.”
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