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Coronavirus: State of local emergency extended for Calgary as city makes service changes

Empty downtown streets in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, March 18, 2020, amid a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

The City of Calgary’s state of local emergency has been extended another seven days as officials make a number of changes to the way services are carried out in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

READ MORE: Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi announces utility bill deferrals in light of COVID-19

Calgary Emergency Management Agency chief Tom Sampson said Thursday that essential services are a top priority and are not in question, but said things like waste services and animal services are changing the way they operate for now.

2020 Census

The 2020 census has been postponed indefinitely, Sampson said, with the possibility that the city’s data may not be collected until 2021.

The census information is normally collected by workers going door-to-door, which isn’t in compliance with provincial and municipal social distancing orders.

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Coronavirus concerns prompt changes to Calgary Transit bus procedures – Mar 19, 2020

READ MORE: Alberta reports province’s 1st COVID-19 death, officials working on plan to enforce new rules

The training of census workers was also something Sampson said was “not a good idea right now,” so the decision was made to postpone.

“It’s that face-to-face contact we want to avoid,” he said.

Waste and recycling services

In an attempt to reduce the amount of interaction city workers have with the public and with various surfaces, the following changes are coming to the way the city deals with green, blue and black carts:

  • Green carts will be collected every other week this spring, as opposed to switching to weekly collection in April
  • No extra bags of green cart waste will be picked up as of March 24
  • Black carts will be collected every other week and no extra bags of waste will be picked up as of March 24
  • Blue carts are being collected weekly

Sampson said the city is keeping its landfills open with regular hours, however only credit and debit cards will be accepted as payment at all three locations.

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Animal services

The city’s no-cost spay and neuter program has been suspended indefinitely, Sampson said, and any booked appointments have been postponed.

“The animal services centre stays open to the public and they’re there, but to limit our staff’s exposure to the public, we’ve asked that no stray animals be brought to the facility unless it is injured or in distress and… can’t be treated at another veterinarian facility elsewhere,” Sampson said.

READ MORE: Calgary Zoo brings animal facts, videos to those at home during coronavirus pandemic

The city’s Fair Entry will be closed and only accepting services through online, email, fax or mail, Sampson said, and planning applications will only be accepted online at apply.calgary.ca.

Sampson also advised people that the city’s water treatment facilities are still working and the drinking water is safe.

He did stress, however, that from a waste water treatment standpoint, Calgarians should not be flushing disposable wipes — like Lysol and Clorox — down the toilet, even if they’re advertised as being flushable, as they’re causing issues.

Community relief fund

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said that one of the city’s top priorities is the health and well-being of the city’s most vulnerable residents.

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He said he’s “not waiting for the money” from the provincial government to help those dealing with homelessness or other struggles, and so the city has partnered with the United Way to establish the COVID-19 Community Response Fund.

“You can help in so many ways,” Nenshi said. “But those who want to make financial contributions to help their neighbours will now have a vehicle to do that.”

United Way president and CEO Karen Young said the fund will ensure no one who needs help is left behind.

“If we approach things with kindness and caring and compassion, we will be able to get through this and have some resiliency on the other side,” Young said.

READ MORE: Calgarians step up to help people unable to leave their homes

She said the fund would be available to anyone who needs it, whether they’re a senior, someone dealing with homelessness, those struggling with mental health and addictions, Indigenous communities or newcomers to the city.

Young said United Way has been in constant contact with agency partners like the Calgary Food Bank, the Calgary Homelessness Foundation and Alberta Health Services to identify those who may need extra help.

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She said there would be more information in the coming days on how much money is available through the fund, adding they’re now looking for donations and working with corporate partners to establish a base.

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Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson expressed frustration on Thursday with the lack of finances the province has put up to help the vulnerable population in his city. That’s a frustration that Nenshi said Calgary is taking its own action on.

“This is one of our primary public health issues, to protect homeless people in shelter populations, so we’re just plowing forward,” Nenshi said.

“So we’ll have something to announce probably in the next 24 [to] 48 hours at the outset and I hope that the province will be able to announce the funding for that as well.”

Both Sampson and Nenshi reiterated the importance of self-isolation and social distancing for Calgarians, with Nenshi reminding people that guidelines from CEMA are not just recommendations, but serious orders to be followed.

Sampson said there have been reports of businesses like gyms violating the orders, but he said that by the time officials are able to contact those establishments to reinforce the guidelines, the public has essentially shamed them into compliance.

“We know that we’ll go through a period of adjustment and we expect that,” he said, reiterating that all gyms in the city are to be closed.

READ MORE: Calgary orders stricter self-isolation protocols for international travellers, regardless of how they arrived

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Sampson explained the difference with malls is that they’re considered to be an “indoor open area” and because people aren’t tight together, and because numbers are down at Calgary malls, they’re considered safe. He said personally, he’s not lingering at places like malls; he said he’s going to get what he needs and heading back home.

“You need to take care of you when you’re out in public,” he said. “Unfortunately, this is a new reality.”

Sampson also said CEMA is working with the province on possible repercussions for anyone who doesn’t obey the self-isolation order imposed on anyone who’s travelled internationally and their end destination is Calgary.

He said people could possibly be slapped with fines, the amount of which would be determined by the courts.

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