Halloween will have to look different this year if Calgary as a whole is going to push down the escalating number of cases of the novel coronavirus in the city.
“This is just not the year to have a Halloween party,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said. “This is the year to put on your cool costume and share the pictures on Instagram.”
Nenshi and Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) chief Tom Sampson shared their message ahead of the Halloween weekend, in the hope to prevent further spread of COVID-19 at a time when people might otherwise get together.
“We want to reiterate that controlling the spread is completely in our hands,” Sampson said. “Social contact is a major contributor to the higher rates of infection and now is the time to put a crimp on some of those parties and the social gatherings.”
“Pull back right now — it’s a short-term pull back. And then we can do a little bit more.”
Sampson said the rate of transmission in Calgary is at 1.35, down slightly from a week ago. But at the current rate, the case numbers will continue to rise sharply.
“If we have 1,762 active cases in Calgary today, when that multiplies by a rate of 1.35, we’ll have 2,257 cases,” the CEMA chief said. “When it multiplies again, we’ll have 3,347. And again, we’ll have 4,113 cases.
“So we’re multiplying way faster than we can afford.”
Sampson said he’d like to see a rate of transmission of 0.5.
Nenshi said that exponential growth — when the rate of transmission reaches two– can very quickly overwhelm hospitals. The mayor used the example of a petri dish containing a virus that doubled every day.
“On the 12th day, your petri dish is overflowing. You have no more capacity — your hospital beds are full, your ICU is full, the frontline health-care workers have to make decisions on who gets the ventilator — that’s day 12. What day were you only halfway there, where you still had half of your capacity available? That’s day 11. On day 10, you were only a quarter of the way there.”
The mayor repeated the need to do three things to stop the spread of the coronavirus — having good hygiene, keeping distance and wearing a mask.
The CEMA chief also said the city applauds new public health measures announced by Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw on Monday.
“We fully support the mandate of a 15 person limit on all social family gatherings where people are mixing and mingling,” Sampson said.
Hinshaw also put in the voluntary measures of wearing non-medical masks in all indoor work settings and having a limit of three cohorts — measures Nenshi and Sampson would like Calgarians to adopt universally.
“These measures are the absolute minimum steps that we need to take so that we don’t have to have stronger measures down the road,” Sampson said.
Nenshi said returning to lockdown like European countries France and Germany announced Wednesday is an option Calgary and Alberta should avoid.
COVID Alert delays
Nenshi repeated the call from him and the chief emergency management officer for the Alberta government to sign off on to COVID Alert — the national contact tracing app — without politicizing the matter.
“Everything I’ve heard is that, ‘It’s imminent. It’s imminent,’” Nenshi said of the province joining the app.
“And then yesterday in question period, I heard that some of the ministers were mocking it as ‘Trudeau’s app.’
“Stop it,” the mayor admonished. “We don’t need that kind of partisanship here. We’ve got to keep people safe. And I just hope that we go ahead and sign off on it as soon as possible.”
Nenshi said he heard that contact tracing is taking days due to the recent spike in positive cases.
“In Ontario and for the most part in Alberta, people have been able to set aside their partisan differences and just do the right thing for the public health.
“Ultimately, I’ve got 139 citizens who’ve died — I don’t want any more.”
Health Minister Tyler Shandro says the issue is transitioning 247,000 users of ABTraceTogether to COVID Alert.
“I want to make sure there’s a transition that’s smooth and has the smallest amount of bleed of users,” Shandro said Wednesday.
The health minister said the timeline depends on conversations with the federal government.
“It only works if we have a certain amount of people who are going to be downloading it,” Shandro said. “If we start with a small amount of users when we’ve already had all this work to get the 247,000 now, we need for this to be effective in Alberta for there to be a good base of downloads.”
The mayor also shared a call he had with Minister of Municipal Affairs Tracy Allard on Wednesday morning, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 21.
“She picked up the COVID virus at a small family gathering for Thanksgiving,” Nenshi said.
“But she went crazy on her contact tracing. She made sure that every single person that she had met in the 14 days before she started isolating was contacted and not one of those people tested positive.
“The reason that her [rate of transmission] was zero is because she’s been so careful about masking, washing her hands, keeping her physical distance.”
Mask mandate in Airdrie
Wednesday afternoon, the City of Airdrie issued a news release making masks mandatory while on Airdrie Transit vehicles. Complimentary disposable masks will be made available for transit users in that city.
“This is one particular adjustment that we are implementing to enhance our safety measures to continue to keep our community healthy,” Chris MacIsaac, transit lead with the City of Airdrie, said in a statement.
The city made masks mandatory in public spaces when Airdrie was elevated to “enhanced” status by Alberta Health. The city was recently moved from “open” to “watch.”
–with files from Reuters