By Lethbridge Herald on March 23, 2020.
City officials are calling for local citizens to pay attention to the messaging around social distancing and the COVID-19 virus, and are contemplating more aggressive steps to ensure public compliance.
“The name of the game here is about stopping community transmission,” said Director of Emergency Management Marc Rathwell at the City’s COVID-19 briefing on Monday. “We need to slow the virus’ spread, and the best way to do that is to keep people socially distant.”
“We can’t have those groups gathering,” he added. “The risk of community transmission; that’s where things kind of go off the rails for us. People need to take this seriously. This is a virus. We can’t see it. Typically in an emergency, we will see a fire or we will see a flood. With a virus, we don’t see it and we need to start understanding that this is a serious problem and we will put many citizens at risk if we don’t start practising all these pieces being laid out for us. Again: hand-washing, self-isolation and social distancing.”
The City closed all public facilities and playgrounds at parks and imposed a fire ban in the river valley to further enforce the social distancing message, and has not ruled out handing out fines or tickets for those not complying with these provisions.
This message was reinforced and repeated by Mayor Chris Spearman and City Manager Jody Meli.
“People can still enjoy the outdoors in their own backyards and on city pathways and other green spaces while following social distancing guidelines,” stated Meli.
On another note, Meli said the City will also be deferring utility bill payments for up to 90 days for those struggling financially during the crisis.
“Anyone requiring a deferral of payment for City utilities is asked to contact Lethbridge 311 to make these arrangements,” said Meli.
They City will also not be disconnecting those from utility services if they cannot pay their bills while the State of Local Emergency remains in effect, she confirmed.
Spearman said the City will likely lose significant revenue from unpaid utilities and potentially property taxes, and said he is eager to hear more from the province if there will be any financial assistance forthcoming to help with the types of shortfalls.
“Council is looking at a number of other measures to provide relief where we can at the municipal level, for residents, for businesses, who are facing financial difficulty due the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Spearman. “We are hopeful that maybe some type of provincial support may be on the way to help municipalities deal with the short-term financial challenges we are all facing now, and we are actively waiting and anticipating what the details of those programs might be. The province has indicated they will be assisting municipalities, and we’re just waiting to hear what those details could be.”
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