Edmonton mayor says stronger COVID-19 measures 'needed soon' to slow growth in 2nd wave

There is growing frustration among the mayor and many Edmonton city councillors, that the Alberta government is not doing enough to stop the spread of COVID-19. From a lack of communication to the limited power of municipalities, it was all up for discussion Thursday. Vinesh Pratap reports.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said stronger measures are needed and “needed soon” in order to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“I know that Edmontonians are tired of the virus and ready for all of this to end, waiting patiently for a vaccine, but we must accept the reality of the data before us which is that COVID-19 cases are rising fast,” Iveson said Thursday.

Alberta recorded 1,105 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, the highest daily number since the pandemic began, and eight additional deaths.

As of Thursday afternoon, there were 4,388 active cases of COVID-19 in the Edmonton zone and 3,459 active cases in the city of Edmonton proper.

The City of Edmonton held an emergency advisory committee meeting Thursday morning, during which interim city manager Adam Laughlin provided an update on the city’s COVID-19 response. It comes just days after Alberta’s chief medical officer of health acknowledged the province is in a second wave of COVID-19.

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Laughlin said Edmonton has seen “rapid and aggressive” growth in the number of cases over the past month and Edmontonians are at a “crucial crossroad” heading into the holidays.

While promising news has come out in the past week regarding coronavirus vaccines, Laughlin said now is the time for Edmontonians to redouble their efforts to bend the curve.

“There is a light at the end of this tunnel but to get there we will experience some difficult weeks ahead,” Laughlin said.

“We could be facing additional restriction measures in the lead up to the holiday season and possibly beyond.”

Edmonton is currently on the province’s enhanced watch list, with an active case rate of 320.9 per 100,000 population.

Laughlin said the city’s second wave escalation team is proactively working on protocols that could change with additional restrictions, should they come into place.

Iveson said the city is also considering what it can do within the municipality’s mandate, but added provincial measures are likely to be more effective.

“They have the strongest authority to issue regional health orders, which I have long maintained is the key to tackling the spread of the this virus in our metropolitan context. COVID-19 is borderless and people across our region need clear and concise rules so there is consistency in Alberta’s approach to tackling this virus in the Edmonton metropolitan region,” Iveson said.

“Local authorities have some tools to respond to a pandemic but they are limited compared to the province’s tools and access to information to inform how to use those tools.

“I am sensing from Edmontonians and from my council colleagues a desire for the government of Alberta to act more strongly and swiftly to keep the virus from breaking wide and loose into the community and overwhelming our healthcare system.”

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Iveson said he has started to reach out to mayors in surrounding municipalities to discuss a coordinated approach “should we need to go down the route without a direct order from the provincial government.”

However, he reiterated he would rather measures and restrictions come from the province.

“That’s a difficult place to put local officials in, to try to coordinate that. But I’ve started those discussions,” Iveson said. “We’d prefer not to go down that route because at the end of the day, the province does have a hammer over all of this, which is that they can countermand any order put in by any municipality under a state of local emergency. And so, to go down that road and to be countermanded would also be mixed signals to people.

“It’s a very disempowering situation right now, quite frankly, and we’re looking for what we can do.”

The city of Edmonton remains on Level 2 of its second wave progression plan but Level 3 restrictions are being assessed, Laughlin said, also noting a cohesive approach within the Edmonton metropolitan region is needed, given “COVID knows no geographic boundaries.”

“Synchronized action is important,” Laughlin said. “There is no wall around Edmonton.”

Courtesy, City of Edmonton

Courtesy, City of Edmonton

Courtesy, City of Edmonton

Currently, additional measures are in place in Edmonton — as well as all municipalities on the enhanced list — that prohibit indoor group fitness classes and team sports. Restaurants and pubs in these regions must also stop liquor sales by 10 p.m. and close by 11 p.m. These measures went into effect on Nov. 13 and are currently scheduled to be in place until Nov. 27.

“We are aware that the Nov. 27 end date to the current restrictions may not show sufficient change to the epidemiology data to warrant a relaxation in the measures. A new round of more stringent measures could also be introduced in the lead up to the holiday season,” Laughlin noted.

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Laughlin said between Nov. 13 and 17, officials visited 783 Edmonton businesses where restrictions are in place and noted a 96 per cent compliance rate. Thirty-five violations regarding closing time, face coverings and physical distancing were found in these locations, and 58 warnings were issued or passed on to Alberta Health Services.

“On enforcement, I’ve been hearing more requests — even demands — from Edmontonians asking why we can’t enforce the health orders more aggressively. And the answer is that we are doing what we can with the tools provided to us by the province.”

Iveson said bylaw officers are working alongside Edmonton police and AHS to educate residents on the public health restrictions and reporting infractions, but said they currently don’t have the power to do anything more than issue warnings.

“The city’s ability for our peace officers to enforce measures still has not been renewed. Only AHS and EPS have the ability to issues direct orders. While our police force is eager to and willing to help with enforcement, they are stretched quite thin as it is.”

Because health officials continue to stress that transmission is largely coming from group gatherings and within households, Laughlin said the city is working on promotional guidance on how Edmontonians can celebrate the upcoming holidays while avoiding gatherings.

“This holiday season, Edmontonians may need a new approach and different options,” he said.

Update on temporary pandemic shelters for vulnerable Edmontonians

Laughlin also provided an update on the three temporary shelters that have been set up to provide emergency pandemic accommodations to vulnerable Edmontonians.

There are a total of 1,260 beds available at the Edmonton Convention Centre, Commonwealth Stadium at The Mustard Seed’s shelter in the Ritchie neighbourhood.

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Laughlin said the convention centre is operating at full capacity, Commonwealth has reached more than 80 per cent capacity overnight and the shelter in Ritchie has reached about 75 per cent capacity.

Laughlin also noted that the Boyle Street supervised consumption site is being relocated to the convention centre and will open on Friday.

City services, events

Laughlin said the Edmonton Transit Service continues to operate at full service and will continue to offer full service through the holidays, as a way to continue to encourage physical distancing on buses and trains.

Laughlin also noted this year’s annual New Year’s Eve fireworks and family programming has been cancelled.

City of Edmonton staff are also recommending an extension to the mandatory face coverings bylaw, which is set to go before city council on Friday.

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