By Tim Kalinowski on May 1, 2021.
City officials and local elected representatives reflected on new, more targeted, Lethbridge-specific provincial health measures brought in on Thursday. Lethbridge was identified by provincial health officials as a “COVID hotspot” with active cases now above 400 per 100,000 members of the population.
Measures included the reclosure of indoor fitness studios and gyms, the full closure of indoor public recreation facilities, the suspension of all indoor sports, and mandatory at home learning for students in Grades 7 to 12 for at least the next 14 days starting May 3.
The City also announced Friday, in compliance with these new measures, it would be immediately closing the ATB Centre, the Cor Van Raay YMCA, the Henderson Ice Arena, and all publicly operated swimming pools. The Lethbridge Police Service also confirmed it would be suspending all activities of The Watch Program for 14 days to comply with public health orders.
Mayor Chris Spearman said he agreed with the new provincial health measures.
“I think my colleague in Calgary, Mayor Nenshi, really said it best yesterday when he responded to the changes,” stated Spearman to local media in a virtual press conference on Friday. “He said, ‘You can hate the prime minister, you can hate the premier, you can hate the mayor, you can hate the restrictions, but, for now, please listen up and comply.’ We all need to do that. It is exactly how I feel. I recognize people are frustrated and angry, but that’s okay, and I completely understand. What’s not okay is being completely reckless with the health and safety of our community, and the health and safety of each other.”
Spearman said city council was empathetic to local businesses who have been impacted once again by recent public health orders, and the new targeted ones announced this week.
“It’s very selective, and very targeted,” he explained. “The province and Alberta Health Services are saying these are the businesses that are possibly creating the most risk; so I then do believe the province should be providing additional supports. I know they have recently topped up those supports and provided an additional layer, but what I am hearing from the businesses is those financial supports from the province need to go a lot further than where they are currently â€¦ I believe additional financial supports are needed if businesses are going to make it though– especially if we are going to have a longer term lockdown.”
Spearman was asked if the provincial government has been lagging in its supports to local businesses if city council intended any local measures to provide some relief funding to those who are impacted?
“Our resources are more limited (than the province), and we have provided incentives,” he stated. “We have allowed businesses to delay their payments of taxes, and we have provided supports in terms of additional grants for patios and parklets. So we are doing those types of things, and at the moment we aren’t considering anything further (as a council).”
Spearman said city council had been working closely with the Chamber of Commerce on helping local businesses during the pandemic, and had received no requests for additional short term grants of any nature from impacted local business owners.
Spearman also confirmed the City was not contemplating a curfew, as provided as an option by Premier Kenney on Thursday, but would be encouraging more enforcement of public health measures by local police.
“We do hear that not everybody is following the (public health) orders,” he stated. “Some people are actually deliberately making a point of not following the orders, but we think enforcement is something that is needed now.”
Meanwhile across town Lethbridge-West MLA Shannon Phillips addressed local reporters on the province’s decision to close down local schools for Grade 7 to 12 classes for the next two weeks at a virtual press conference hosted by Opposition Education Critic Sarah Hoffman.
Phillips said her party had made concrete suggestions last summer before the school year even started to help mitigate the risks of COVID spread in schools, including adding additional staff to reduce class sizes, introducing dedicated school contact tracing teams, and the creating of a Learn From Home Fund to help make at home learning easier for families. None of these measures were followed, said Phillips, and she laid blame for the high spike in school transmissions of COVID-19 firmly on the doorstep of the Kenney government.
“Instead, we got that haphazard, slapdash thing where they said, ‘here is a bucket of sanitizer and some masks’ back in August,” stated Phillips. “Parents were rightfully concerned, and by October we saw our community spread going straight up again. Now that we have this situation, it is incumbent on the government to assist parents and schools.”
The NDP again called on the government to establish a Learn From Home Fund to help ease the added financial burden of families, whether that be access to technology, or additional assistance and staff supports for children who struggle outside of a classroom environment. And then, added Phillips, it might be nice if the government finally learned from its past mistakes and came up with a “credible plan” to safely bring students back to class again.
“What we want ultimately is to reduce the community spread so everybody can go back to school,” she said, “but then if we reduce the community spread and the schools don’t have the appropriately funded social distancing and other requirements the science has been telling us we will just be back at square one at schools until June.”
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