'This isn't a sprint,' city manager tells Edmonton committee on COVID-19 preparations

The City of Edmonton, making preparations to control the coronavirus outbreak, isn't currently planning to shut down any facilities or to cancel events, council's emergency advisory committee heard Tuesday.

Police, deputy fire chiefs and city managers brief emergency advisory committee

Edmonton's emergency advisory committee meets Tuesday to hear city's plans for dealing with coronavirus cases and potential escalation. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

The City of Edmonton, making preparations to control the coronavirus outbreak, isn't currently planning to shut down any facilities or to cancel events, council's emergency advisory committee heard Tuesday.

Police and deputy fire chiefs joined city managers to brief councillors on the city's emergency preparedness plan, which includes keeping an eye on public events.

Monitoring mass gatherings, including Oilers games at Rogers Place, is one measure the City of Edmonton is taking to deal with a potential spread of the novel coronavirus, deputy fire chief Rob Squire told the committee.

City manager Adam Laughlin, who is the director of the city's emergency management agency, emphasized the risk of spread is low in Edmonton.

Laughlin said his team is working on balancing risk with good, clear communication for the public.

"Stay calm, provide folks the comfort that, 'We got this.'"

'Keep calm and wash your hands'

Mayor Don Iveson emphasized hand-washing and common-sense hygiene to reduce the spread of coronavirus and other bacteria. 

"The most important thing we can do right now is not stocking up on canned goods, it's [to] keep washing our hands and coughing into our elbows," Iveson said. "Keep calm and wash your hands." 

While monitoring large public gatherings like sports events is part of the plan, city officials haven't heard of events being cancelled.

Rob Smyth, deputy manager of citizen services, said significant hockey tournaments planned for rec centres are proceeding as scheduled, as far as he knows. 

"No flags are being raised in terms of organizations cancelling events at this point," Smyth said.

It's up to the organization to proactively cancel an event, he added, unless the city declares a restriction on mass gatherings.

Iveson said he's heard people raising concerns about NHL games getting cancelled if the situation escalates but he hopes that won't be the case. 

"It's looking good for us this year, so obviously we have a strong interest in mass gatherings being able to continue," he said. "Everybody keep washing your hands and hopefully we can have a good party this spring." 

Restricting city employee travel

Laughlin is in touch with the provincial government every day, getting updates from Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health.

He said the emergency preparation and response will involve days or weeks or even months. 

"This isn't a sprint," Laughlin told the committee. "They consider this a marathon." 

He said one of the first steps his emergency management team has taken is to restrict business travel for city employees outside Canada. They're also evaluating travel within Canada.

The city is preparing for staffing shortages, reviewing continuity plans and engaging a coronavirus task team. It's also taking advice from the province on creating a specific protocol for employees who need sick days because of COVID-19. 

The coronavirus task team is assessing the need to sanitize buses, rec centres and other public facilities. 

Laughlin emphasized that the risk of coronavirus spreading in Edmonton is low but the intention behind preparations is high.

He said the city takes its cue from the province and will rely on regional collaboration and provincial support. 

Councillors, including Aaron Paquette, want to make sure the public knows where to get information. 

"If you have concerns, if you have questions, it's 811 or the Alberta Health Services website," Paquette said.  "It's important we make that very, very clear." 

Iveson asked what steps the city would need to take if it decided to shut down facilities.

Squire said the city would activate the emergency operations centre. Dedicated public information officers working out of the centre would co-ordinate and supply information.

The city would use social media accounts, roadway sign boards and ETS buses to get messages out to the public.