Nfld. & Labrador

Healthy PPE stash helping St. John's maintain services during outbreak, says mayor

The City of St. John's has learned some lessons from the last lockdown, says Mayor Danny Breen, to help keep services going during this one.

Danny Breen says there are challenges with some employees in isolation

St. John's Mayor Danny Breen says a strong supply of personal protective equipment is allowing the city to continue providing a high level of essential services during this latest outbreak of the coronavirus. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

The City of St. John's is able to maintain a higher standard of service during the latest outbreak of the coronavirus because of a healthy supply of personal protective equipment that was not available last year, says Mayor Danny Breen.

"This time around we have that stock. That hasn't been a challenge during this period for us," said Breen. "That's a pretty major difference."

In a virtual news conference with reporters Tuesday morning, Breen updated how sweeping new public health measures — a consequence of all of Newfoundland and Labrador moving to Alert Level 5 on Feb. 12 following confirmation that a new variant of the virus is driving transmission — have affected the city.

While the city has closed what Breen called "forward-facing services" such as recreation facilities and the Access St. John's service centre to in-person visitation, he said essential services are still going ahead.

During the COVID-19 lockdown in March and April of last year, St. John's was forced to discontinue some essential services because of a shortage of personal protective equipment. (Nicholas Pfosi/Reuters)

Public works crews that provide water and sewer services, for example, and must sometimes enter private property, are able to do so wearing the required protective equipment.

Residential drop-off at the Robin Hood Bay landfill and recycling facility is also remaining open, with the metal collection bins spaced further apart to allow for physical distancing among users.

During the first COVID-19 lockdown in March and April of last year, Breen said the city did not have access to personal protective equipment, "so many of our services that required that type of contact, we couldn't do."

He said many of the lessons learned from last year are now being applied to the current situation, including a larger inventory of laptop computers, allowing employees a greater ability to work remotely.

Some staff isolating

Two city employees have tested positive for the coronavirus, though neither of those employees work in jobs that required them to interact with the public, Breen said. 

He could not provide an exact number, but confirmed that some city employees — including firefighters — are self-isolating because of concerns they may have come in contact with the virus. He said other employees are on leave because of challenges in accessing daycare services for their children.

The city has once again closed municipal parks as a safeguard against the spread of a new coronavirus variant, including the Loop skating facility at Bannerman Park. (Heather Gillis/CBC)

He could not provide an exact number employees unable to report for duty, but said there is "no impact" on the ability of the fire department to respond to emergency calls.

In cases where departments are being affected by a shortage of staff, he said, employees are being redeployed. 

Curbside recycling collection has been temporarily suspended. Breen said that decision was made to free up staff for other duties.

"Other than that, we're providing most of our more popular services," he said.

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