Edmonton looks at possibly closing rec centres, council meets Friday to discuss ’emerging coronavirus situation’

WATCH ABOVE: Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and interim city manager Adam Laughlin speak to reporters on March 12, 2020.

A recommendation will be made at a meeting called for Friday that Edmonton city council be suspended “indefinitely while we focus management’s resources and our response to the emerging coronavirus situation,” Mayor Don Iveson said Thursday afternoon.

“This will allow city staff to spend all of their time focused on working through some of the kinds of the questions [we’re faced with]… and making critical decisions in response to the advice of the chief medical officer of health,” the mayor said.

In addition to public health concern, Iveson said he believes making such a move would also allow the city to address “economic and other challenges that are on all of our minds.”

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The mayor added that if a decision to suspend council is made, he would still like council to meet remotely in order to oversee the work of city administration.

Iveson addressed reporters at a news conference alongside interim city manager Adam Laughlin on the same day Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said there are now 23 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the province. Dr. Deena Hinshaw also announced the province is taking aggressive measures to address the spread of the coronavirus, including urging the cancellation of all public gatherings involving 250 people or more.

READ MORE: Confirmed coronavirus cases in Alberta rise to 23, officials urge cancellation of large gatherings

“Edmontonians should know that their safety is our No. 1 priority,” Laughlin said, adding that Alberta is currently in the second phase –containment — of the province’s four-phase pandemic plan.

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He said the first phase was awareness and that “if containment (phase) becomes a challenge,” demitigation would be the third phase, followed by phase four: recovery.

Laughlin said “there may be a necessity to activate the Emergency Management Agency, which is an agency of council, if the situations warrant it, and so we’ll go through discussions like that with council.”

Protocols for city staff to follow

Laughlin said business travel within Canada and abroad has been suspended for all city employees and that all staff are asked to self-isolate for two weeks if they have been out of the country.

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“We are also working to finalize our social distancing procedures within the city,” he said. “This includes in-person meetings, training sessions and other ways we can meet.”

Laughlin added that the city is working to get as many staff who can work from home to do so.

Impact on Edmonton rec centres

Laughlin said the city’s recreation centres will be cancelling all programming involving large numbers of people and that “in the next 24 to 48 hours, we will determine whether recreation centres will be closed.”

“Any patron that is sick, we ask you to stay home. We will be working with our senior-serving centres, Central, Lion’s, Northgate and Mill Woods, to close operations in the next 24 hours.”

Discussions with Alberta Health Services and the city are ongoing in terms of how to plan for risks associated with vulnerable Edmontonians amid the pandemic, including people who use homeless shelters.

Laughlin added that the city is “increasing frequency and intensity of cleaning at our facilities and on our transit systems” and working with the Edmonton Public Library to ensure consistency in terms of practices at city facilities.

READ MORE: City of Calgary implements Municipal Emergency Plan amid coronavirus pandemic

“These are trying times for all of us — what’s top of mind for me is our staff who work hard to keep the services in Edmonton running,” he said. “Keeping them safe is my priority.

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“We also have mental health supports in place for those who are experiencing challenges as a result of this situation. We are committed to providing them and you with the information they all need to keep safe in this evolving situation.”

No decision yet on any changes to transit

Laughlin said discussions about potential steps that could have an impact on the city’s public transit system are ongoing.

“Transit is an essential service in terms of getting people to and from destinations, so our response to that immediately is to increase the intensity of the cleaning and the frequency of the cleaning to be able to minimize the risk as much as possible,” he said.

“But we’ll continue to evaluate, and as you’ve seen with the announcement from Alberta Health Services, this is an ever-changing situation that we need to respond to in kind.”

Potential impact on Edmonton’s festival season

“If it were now, they would be cancelled,” Laughlin said when asked by a reporter whether any of Edmonton’s signature summer festival events could be affected by public health concerns posed by the pandemic.

He said that going forward, the city will rely on input from AHS about whether to cancel events.

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Watch below: Some videos from Global News’ coverage of the coronavirus and its impact on Alberta.