Calgary officials urge physical distancing, masks ahead of lifting COVID-19 state of emergency

Calgary is lifting its local state of emergency as of Friday but officials continue to urge people to strictly follow public health guidelines to prevent a rebound of COVID-19 cases.

CEMA chief warns pandemic could rebound if people break health guidelines

Kids will soon be able to swim at Calgary pools. The city has lifted its local state of emergency as Alberta moves into Stage 2 of its economic relaunch. (Martin Meissner/The Associated Press)

Calgary is lifting its local state of emergency as of Friday but officials continue to urge people to strictly follow public health guidelines to prevent a rebound of COVID-19 cases.

Tom Sampson, chief of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA), said city officials made the decision because provincial officials are moving Alberta into Stage 2 of the economic relaunch, which allows many businesses and facilities to reopen on Friday.

He said the decision was also made because the number of daily new COVID-19 cases has remained relatively stable for some time.

"It doesn't mean the pandemic is done. It doesn't mean that you can stop washing your hands," Sampson said at a press conference Thursday.

Instead, he urged Calgarians to strictly obey health guidelines to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, for which there is no proven treatment, cure or vaccine.

"We absolutely need to ensure we don't go into a rebound," Sampson said. "I think all of us would be disappointed if we have to take a step back."

The COVID-19 state of emergency was the longest in Calgary's history, he said.

Sampson reminded people that they need to diligently clean their hands, practise two-metre physical distancing, and where physical distancing is not possible, to wear a mask.

He suggested people carry a mask on their person or in their car. 

Chief hesitant to expand 'bubble'

Sampson also said that people must be diligent about maintaining cohort families, or bubbles, meaning a limited group of people with whom you can closely associate under the agreement they don't associate with others.

Stage 2 of Alberta's relaunch, which starts Friday, allows people to expand their bubbles to a total of 15.

Sampson said each family must decide how to manage that expansion based on their personal situations.

He said his household members won't be expanding their bubble quickly.

"I know from a personal perspective, my jury is still deliberating," Sampson said, adding that he is watching the COVID-19 case count closely.

'About saving people's lives'

Sampson noted other changes coming with Stage 2 include personal services, such as spas, pools and gyms, being allowed to open, and expanding outdoor funeral services to 100 physically distanced people. 

The Calgary Zone's COVID-19 death toll currently sits at 111, Mayor Naheed Nenshi pointed out.

He said he appreciates the long-lasting restrictions have been difficult for people but asked they keep the risk in mind.

"I couldn't get a haircut for a few months or I couldn't see my friends but this is about saving people's lives," he said.

Tom Sampson, chief of Calgary Emergency Management Agency, is pictured here with Mayor Naheed Nenshi, right, in this file photo. Sampson says he will not be expanding his household 'bubble' right away, despite Alberta allowing for it. (CBC)

The mayor said he was surprised the province's Stage 2 was not firmer on mask guidance.

"If it were me, I might have a much stronger mask mandate. I think people should wear masks," Nenshi said.

The city will provide additional masks to people in areas with a high concentration of cases, Sampson said. The mayor also suggested people could make their own.

Delays expected in opening some pools, rec centres

Some city-run pools, gyms and recreation facilities won't open on Friday.

The City of Calgary laid off nearly 1,200 employees at parks, recreation facilities and pools. They will have to be rehired and trained in new COVID-19 prevention techniques before city recreation facilities can reopen, Sampson said. 

Some rec facility reopenings will be further delayed due to ongoing renovations started during the closures. However, some pools, arenas and gym facilities will open soon, and listed on the city's website.

The city is revamping summer day camp programs to allow for more outdoor time, as it's harder to spread the virus when outdoors. The city says they hope to have summary day camps operating by July 6.

New facility openings

Since Stage 1, the city has opened five athletic parks, three dry pad arenas, three golf courses and 276 tennis courts. The city's website will be updated regularly as more facilities open.

So far, the city says that on June 15, the Glenmore Reservoir will open for recreation. On June 29, four additional icepads at two arena locations, to be announced, will be opened.

Three more city golf courses and a couple of driving ranges should reopen by end of month.

The City of Calgary is trying out these circled painted on the grass. They are at least two metres from each other, thus ensuring physical distancing. (City of Calgary/Facebook)

More facilities are expected the following month, including more athletic parks by mid-July.

By July 20, four additional aquatic and fitness facilities will open, the city says.

By mid-August, there will be five more aquatic facilities and more ice space opened.

Officials are also trying out a new technique to encourage physical distancing at parks. Staff will spray circles on grass at four city parks — Bowness, Riley, North Glenmore and Prince's Island — to remind people to distance from others.

Green spaces are already open in Calgary, and once Stage 2 launches, people can start playing sports in groups no larger than 50 people.

'Some distance to go'

Sampson thanked city staff, community leaders and workers, and Calgarians for being diligent so far. He said that hard work is why Calgary can proceed into Stage 2 at the same time as the rest of the province. He said people should take advantage of the new allowances but safely.

"It's our responsibility now collectively, yours and mine," Sampson said. "We know that we've got some distance to go."

The local state of emergency provides some additional powers to Calgary's Emergency Management Agency. During this state of emergency, for example, the powers allowed CEMA to order personal services businesses to close and for international travellers to self-isolate once arriving in Calgary.

Those moves were also enforced by other levels of government at the time.

With files from Scott Dippel