Coronavirus: Edmonton reduces public transit service as part of COVID-19 response

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: City of Edmonton will be switching transit to Saturday schedule seven days a week'
COVID-19: City of Edmonton will be switching transit to Saturday schedule seven days a week
WATCH: The City of Edmonton will be making changes to transit schedules, in anticipation of less transit users as COVID-19 social distancing increases. Interim city manager Adam Laughlin gives an update on Monday, March 16 – Mar 16, 2020

Mayor Don Iveson and interim city manager Adam Laughlin have announced Edmonton Transit Service will be limited to a Saturday schedule seven days a week effective Tuesday.

The announcement was made at a news conference on Monday. The change means reduced frequency of ETS buses and LRT.

“If we reduce the number of buses and LRT on our city streets, we can further increase the level of cleaning and disinfecting taking place on these critical services that Edmontonians rely on,” Iveson said.

“Our No. 1 priority is ensuring the safety of Edmontonians and city employees during these trying times.”

“We understand that this is a difficult time right now for Edmontonians,” Laughlin said. “We are continuing to work closely with Alberta Health Services to understand how we can better ensure the safety of our operators and customers, while still providing a daily service that people rely on.”

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The lower frequency will allow for heightened cleaning opportunity and will protect drivers better. It will also allow for better social distancing for passengers, Laughlin said.

Laughlin said the city was constantly evaluating the situation and whether there should be additional changes made to LRT frequency, more cars to allow for more social distancing and even finding an alternative to door buttons that are activated by people touching them.

Click to play video: 'Edmonton changes public transit service in response to COVID-19'
Edmonton changes public transit service in response to COVID-19

The city said transit has seen reduced demand due to Alberta Health recommendations like limiting large gatherings.

Laughlin said transit has seen a 22 per cent decrease in transit ridership and he expects that to increase due to school classes being cancelled as of Monday.

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The changes will not impact DATS service, the city said. For the latest information on ETS, click here.

Click to play video: 'City employee who tested positive for COVID-19 did not work with public: Officials'
City employee who tested positive for COVID-19 did not work with public: Officials

While they continue to monitor the situation, city officials say they don’t believe Edmonton needs to declare a local state of emergency at this time.

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“I’ve been in close virtual contact with the mayor of Calgary to understand their motivations and they’re really unique to some of their local circumstances,” Iveson explained, after Calgary declared a local state of emergency Sunday.

Iveson explained that declaring a local state of emergency entrusts a huge amount of power to municipal officials – powers that include seizing assets, implementing price controls, dictating firm orders to limit gatherings – and Edmonton is mindful of that weight.

He said that while declaring a local state of emergency is an option, there are other options and Edmonton officials have chosen to use those.

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“We have a number of indicators that we review and will review on a regular basis… We’ll engage our emergency agency committee to potentially recommend those steps… We feel we’re managing it effectively.”

Click to play video: '‘We’re not there yet’: Mayor Don Iveson says Edmonton not under state of emergency'
‘We’re not there yet’: Mayor Don Iveson says Edmonton not under state of emergency

Edmonton is taking the lead and guidance from Alberta Health and the chief medical officer of health.

The mayor again encouraged people to support each other.

“Already we’ve heard so many community members helping each other out,” he said. “I continue to encourage everyone to redouble your efforts to build that community spirit.”

The city revealed late Sunday that a municipal employee had tested positive for COVID-19.

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That person is the first city employee to test positive for the new coronavirus. According to the city, the case is travel-related. The city did not say where the employee had travelled to.

“I want to be clear that we are responding calmly and effectively,” Laughlin wrote in a statement. “Our priority is always health and safety – both for our employees and the broader public.”
The statement also said the person is in self-isolation at home. Those who need to self-isolate after being in contact with the employee have been notified.

On Monday, Laughlin commended City of Edmonton employees for stepping up to the challenge and for their response.

“I’m so proud of the employees… We have your back.”

Also on Sunday, Edmonton shut down all city-run attractions and recreation centres, including fitness centres, arenas and the zoo.

Laughlin said that full or pro-rated refunds will be offered for programs that have been cancelled. All annual memberships have been put on hold.

He also said the city is working to ensure staff at these sites aren’t negatively affected by the closures.”

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The city said the decision to close recreational facilities and other attractions was not related to the employee’s positive test.

Click to play video: 'A look at how City of Edmonton services may be impacted by COVID-19'
A look at how City of Edmonton services may be impacted by COVID-19

The new coronavirus was first identified in Hubei province, China, in December 2019 and spread rapidly. While the outbreak has begun to level off in China, it seems the virus has found a foothold in a number of countries around the world, and it continues to spread.

Confused about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials say the risk is very low for Canadians, but they caution against travel to affected areas (a list can be found here). If you do travel to these places, they recommend you self-monitor to see whether you develop symptoms and if you do, to contact public health authorities.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing – very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

Visit full COVID-19 coverage on Global News.

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