City of Winnipeg moves to Level 2 emergency response to COVID-19

The city is moving into a higher level of readiness for the COVID-19 pandemic. Mayor Bowman reacts to criticism over continuing city budget meetings, saying health experts make the decisions, not politicians.

'Right now isn't the time to walk away': Bowman says city budget won't be delayed

Jason Shaw, Assistant Chief of Emergency Management for the City of Winnipeg, and Mayor Brian Bowman give a briefing on the city's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The City of Winnipeg has upgraded its response to the COVID-19 pandemic to Level 2 as it manages essential services and assesses what changes are coming.

Last week, city-owned recreational centres, libraries and pools were closed in reaction to directions from Manitoba Health officials.

Assistant Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Chief Jason Shaw briefed media alongside Mayor Brian Bowman on Tuesday.

Shaw says the city's move to a Level 2 response to the spread of COVID-19 means assigning more staff in the city's emergency operations centre (EOC), but also doing more meetings without face-to-face contact. 

"We are moving to a virtual hybrid EOC, where we are moving some things online — following the social distancing recommendations from Manitoba Health. [That means] using teleconferencing. Trying to use innovation and technology as best as possible," Shaw said.

Shaw says keeping social distancing measures in place and doing briefings by phone or online isn't as good as person-to-person interaction, but the coronavirus has demanded new tactics.

"It's smart. Its the way we have to go right now when we are talking about this pandemic," Shaw said.

A Level 3 response, Shaw says, would be triggered by provincial health officials and would demand "all hands on deck" from city staff and emergency personnel.

Jason Shaw, Assistant Chief of Emergency Management, says staffing at the city's emergency operations centre has been increased, but some work will be done online or by teleconference. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Under Level 2, the city is managing the closure of its facilities, re-assigning staff who worked at those locations (some will work on projects at home) and also planning for the next several weeks. Planning includes making sure there are adequate supplies for all its departments.

All city staff who work at closed city-owned and operated facilities will be paid during the emergency. Shaw said simply, "you gotta take care of your people."

Shaw says at this point there is no estimate to when the height of the pandemic might pass — "weeks, months ... we are continually assessing what's coming."

'Right now isn't the time to walk away' 

Mayor Brian Bowman pushed back against recent calls to suspend city budget meetings and a decision Monday by Transcona councillor Shawn Nason to leave a committee over concerns there wasn't adequate protection to stop COVID-19 from spreading at city hall.

"The activities here ... these are all being guided by the expert opinions and advice from health care professionals — not from politicians," Bowman said.

Several groups and unions have called for a delay of the budget until the emergency has passed.

Coun. Shawn Nason left a committee meeting Monday over concerns there wasn't enough protection against the spread of COVID-19. (John Einarson/CBC )

Bowman says there have been several months of opportunity to review and criticize what's in the budget and with social distancing protocols in place at city hall now, there is still some time to voice concerns in person.

He says in light of asking health care workers, emergency responders and other staff to be on their jobs during the crisis, politicians should be at work as well.

"We have a job to do as well. Right now isn't the time, in my view, to walk away. Now is the time that our citizens expect us to the work that's expected of us," Bowman said.

Mayor Brian Bowman calls on provincial politicians to get back to work and end delays to 'important work.' (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

City council will meet Friday to vote on the budget, and there will be a second council meeting on Saturday to replace a meeting set for later in March.

Bowman also wanted to send a message to the provincial politicians with respect to stalled efforts to get the budget passed and other work delayed: government services need to "continue uninterrupted."

"There is important work in the legislature right now [for] which we see delays and obviously the city of Winnipeg could be affected by delays," Bowman said.