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Coronavirus: Hamilton shutdown likely to last beyond April 6, says EOC director

Paul Johnson, the Director of Hamilton's Emergency Operations Centre, addresses the media during a daily update session at city hall on March 13, 2020.
Paul Johnson, the Director of Hamilton's Emergency Operations Centre, addresses the media during a daily update session at city hall on March 13, 2020. Don Mitchell / Global News

Hamilton’s director of the emergency operations centre (EOC) says in light of the new coronavirus pandemic – and a bump to 23 positive cases in the city on Thursday – residents are going to have to adjust to “a new reality” over the next couple of months.

Public health officers in Hamilton say it’s unlikely many will become infected with COVID-19, but have admitted the situation is rapidly evolving, particularly with travel-related cases from abroad.

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Paul Johnson says that’s why he’s not convinced the city’s target of April 6 to evaluate re-opening services following their shutdown is realistic.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: What’s closed, cancelled, postponed in Hamilton, Burlington and Niagara due to COVID-19

“I become less and less convinced that that is a date that we will be simply opening everything back up. I think we’re unlikely to see that,” Johnson told Global News.

City services and facilities have essentially been shut down and closed to the public since March 17 to limit the spread of the new coronavirus.

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All municipal buildings, including City Hall, municipal service centres, libraries and public centers will all be closed until at least April 6, and city-run programs and events, including public engagement events, have been cancelled through April 5.

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During a virtual town hall on Wednesday night, Johnson, Mayor Fred Eisenberger and number of other city staff fielded questions from Hamiltonians about concerns as the pandemic rolls on.

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Johnson said despite being at a dark point in the city’s history, he did hear a lot “spirit” from the community, particularly regarding concerns over the city’s most vulnerable, those who have to travel to work every day, and how emergency services and critical services are doing.

“People want to know that we’re doing what we can to keep people safe. And I think that’s good spirit in the community.”

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However, Johnson admits things will not be getting back to normal anytime soon.

“We don’t want a huge spike in numbers because that will overload our health care system and probably elongate the curve as well,” said Johnson.

READ MORE: Flatten the curve: How one chart became a rallying cry against coronavirus

“So we’ll probably have a steady number that is over a longer period of time that allows our health care system to manage the numbers as well. And so that means that a number of these initiatives will be in place likely for some time.”

Johnson says with the shutdown, only about 15 per cent of the city’s workforce is actually at municipal facilities, which makes it difficult to distribute critical programs like recreation for youth and seniors as well as maintain libraries.

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“We’ll continue to look at how we respect the health community, which is people need to be at home, stay at home, and travel as little as possible. So the balance for us as a municipality is what do we need to do what’s essential.”

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However, Johnson said there are little to no staffing changes for critical services such as long term care workers, fire, police, paramedics and those that maintain the city’s water system.

The good news, according to Johnson, is the city did invest in a state-of-the-art emergency operations center in 2001 and invested in good people to operate it.

“It’s been one week since we fully activated. And, you know, it’s been good to watch that training kick in the implementation as a whole,” Johnson said.

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

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 social distancing, frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.