In its Friday meeting, Edmonton’s emergency advisory committee discussed what power the city has to take actions or apply further COVID-19 restrictions and whether it requires a local state of emergency.
At this time, administration is not recommending Edmonton declare another state of local emergency. The province declared a state of public health emergency on Tuesday — the second time it has done so during the pandemic. Calgary has also put its state of local emergency into effect.
Under its current powers, the city can further restrict or shut down only city-run operations and facilities.
“We are doing our best with the powers we have,” Councillor Scott McKeen said. “What we do have power to do, we should do.”
During the meeting, Alberta Justice announced it would delegate more enforcement powers to municipal peace officers in light of the new restrictions banning indoor social gatherings, mandating masks in indoor work places in enhanced-level zones and the 25 per cent capacity restriction on businesses.
“We got word that the provincial government that it will expand peace officer scope to face covering and monitoring public health orders,” Mayor Don Iveson said.
“Effective immediately… working with AHS and EPS, our peace officers will work seven days a week to ensure people are observing public health orders.”
Iveson said local peace officers will be focusing on the rules surrounding social gatherings, capacity limits and religious settings.
“I would implore Edmontonians to follow the restrictions that are in place,” interim city manager Adam Laughlin said. “Everybody has to do their part… if they’re not, you will see our folks enforcing that.”
He said people breaking the rules shouldn’t be surprised if they’re fined.
City peace officers will receive enforcement training “in short order,” Laughlin said.
“I think what you’re going to see is strong action being taken more quickly.”
Edmonton is planning for possible further restrictions from the province.
It will also take five actions on the city level. They include:
- Work with Alberta Health and Edmonton police to activate enforcement teams (using additional powers delegated to municipal peace officers by the province) seven days a week. While an education approach is still preferred, officers should be prepared to issue fines if required.
- Close 22 city-operated arenas from Dec. 1-18. (Outdoor rinks can remain with capacity restrictions in place). City seniors centres will also be closed.
- Customers coming to Edmonton rec centres will be refused entry if they aren’t wearing a face covering, regardless of exemption status (effective Dec. 1).
- Strongly recommend essential travel only. Edmontonians are asked to restrict movement to within their neighbourhood and work route and to avoid travelling across the city unnecessarily.
- Holiday events like Candy Cane Lane will be drive-through only this year.
Justice Minister Kaycee Madu announced Friday the province is temporarily increasing the number of peace officers who can give fines to those who break public health rules. He is extending the authority to 700 more officers.
Madu said authority has been granted to Level 2 Alberta peace officers and Level 1 community peace officers employed by municipalities.
Edmonton has 150 Level 1 peace officers (peace officers and transit peace officers) and less than 10 Level 2 peace officers. So all of the city’s peace officers will have enforcement powers.
Madu said fines can range from $1,000 to $100,000.
In his presentation, Laughlin explained Edmonton’s infection rate per 100,000 rose from 256.6 (on Nov. 12) to 496.4 on Nov. 25. Outbreaks rose from 53 to 70 over the same time period.
“Stay local as much as possible… to try to reduce the risk of transmission as much as possible,” Laughlin said.
After monitoring the face covering bylaw and the new provincial rules, officers found there was 96 per cent and 97 per cent compliance, respectively.
Pandemic shelter accommodations
The committee heard there are 100 temporary pandemic isolation beds available in the system.
Capacity at the Edmonton Convention Centre temporary 24/7 shelter was reduced to 168, with 18 beds set aside for isolation. Cots are spaced two metres apart for outbreak protocol.
As of Friday, there were 22 confirmed COVID-19 cases in both staff and clients linked to the ECC shelter.
Mat spacing at the Mustard Seed at 99 Street switched from one metre to two metres and has reduced capacity from 100 beds to 80 beds.
The shelter at Commonwealth Stadium has seen fluctuating capacity this week, ranging from 75 to 90 per cent overnight. During the day, it’s seeing between 40 and 60 per cent capacity. It can accommodate up to 110 beds.
The Hope Mission is also dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak, councilors heard.
Alberta Health Services has asked to work with shelter organizers to come up with a coordinated plan to help confirmed COVID-19 cases and close contacts isolate.
“We recognize and salute the operators and agencies working on the front lines to ensure, as best they can, the safety of staff and patrons,” Iveson said.
Federal support for closed businesses
Councillor McKeen expressed frustration that the province “was leaving money on the table” for struggling local businesses.
He said new federal programs would provide Edmonton businesses forced to close with financial support. However, since the province has not forced Alberta businesses to close, they don’t qualify for this funding. Despite this, some businesses have decided to voluntarily close temporarily to protect their staff and customers.
“We’re hearing also mixed feedback from our restaurateurs and hospitality folks, many of whom have chosen to voluntarily close in the short-term here because of the risks to their own employees and shifted to curbside,” Iveson said.
“Concern from them that because they haven’t been ordered to close, they’re not eligible for all the federal aid that’s available to similar businesses in virtually every part of the country at this point.”
The city is exploring ways it could potentially order business closures if that would benefit — and be supported by — owners. Laughlin said the order would likely come through a provision under the Municipal Government Act, not through declaring a local state of emergency.