In an effort to curb a rising trend of COVID-19 cases in Calgary, the city’s emergency management committee is meeting on Friday to get a full scope of the pandemic’s fourth wave.
Although public health is a provincial jurisdiction in Alberta, Mayor Naheed Nenshi expressed his concern with a lack of action from the province throughout the month of August as COVID-19 cases continued to surge.
After not being seen publicly since Aug. 9, Premier Jason Kenney — who had been on vacation — told viewers on a Facebook livestream on Wednesday night that an update on the provincial response would come this week.
However, Nenshi criticized the lack of action or communication from the province on the pandemic over the last month.
“I have lost any faith in the province’s ability to do anything,” Nenshi told reporters on Thursday.
“Even if they do it, who knows if they’ll do it right. Ultimately, within our limited authority, the city has to act.”
Emergency management committee chair and Ward 9 city councillor Gian-Carlo Carra called the meeting for Friday afternoon at 1p.m. It will also be livestreamed on the city’s website.
The committee is expected to hear from the Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) as well as medical experts on the current trends of COVID-19, including hospitalizations and admissions into the ICU.
“People are getting sick and dying,” Nenshi said.
“This is not amateur hour. Ultimately, I hate that the city has to step in an area of provincial jurisdiction, but if we have to keep people safe, we’ll figure out how.”
According to Nenshi, reinstating the city’s mask bylaw, as well as potentially requiring proof of vaccination to enter some city facilities, are topics expected to be discussed by councillors at the meeting.
Nenshi added city administration is “united” in mandating vaccinations for City of Calgary employees, and the committee is expected to “figure out how to make that happen.”
The city has already mandated that employees must either be fully vaccinated or undergo mandatory rapid-testing.
Ward 11 city councillor and mayoral candidate Jeromy Farkas said he isn’t in support of the city potentially interfering into provincial jurisdiction, or bringing in mandatory vaccinations.
Farkas said he would like to leave those decisions to health experts but admitted it is challenging given the lack of communication from Alberta’s chief medical officer of health throughout the last month.
“I think that we need to stay in our lane,” he told Global News. “We need to focus on the issues that we’ve been elected on rather than say contradict or contravene the direction that the province has taken.
“If you’re putting city council in charge of health decisions, dictating what health procedures citizens or city staff can or should go through, I’m not in support of that direction. I think that that’s the wrong way to go.”
The emergency management committee meeting comes on the heels of weeks of calls to the mayor and city councillors to hold a special meeting of council to implement health measures at the municipal level.
Those calls were spearheaded by Ward 3 city councillor and mayoral candidate Jyoti Gondek, who said she hopes the meeting results in consistency to help ease confusion for Calgarians.
“That’s the one thing I want to be able to offer to Calgarians: the consistency and predictability that what you can expect in indoor spaces is the same across the board,” she said.
“That is something that has been sorely lacking from the provincial public health authority, so it’s something that I hope we can do.”
One-thousand-three-hundred-thirty-nine new COVID-19 cases in Alberta were announced on Thursday, bringing the province to 12,868 active cases — 3,593 of which are in the Calgary zone.
Ward 6 city councillor and mayoral candidate Jeff Davison said he would be coming into Friday’s meeting with an open mind, but wants to balance public safety with the needs of businesses.
“We have to do it through the lens of public safety and health, but we also have to think about how do we keep Calgary businesses open in doing so,” Davison said.
“There’s a balance there that we have to strike.”
Although city committees only have the power to make recommendations for city council to ultimately implement, Nenshi said he wouldn’t hesitate to call a special meeting of council directly after the emergency management agency meets to pass whatever recommendations are brought forward.
“If committee members are really saying, ‘Look, we want to move and we want to move quickly,’ I do have the ability to call a special meeting of council for the sole purpose of passing what the committee members said at committee,” Nenshi said.
“So it’s very likely. Stay tuned.”
The majority of provincial health protocols were lifted on July 1. Testing and isolation measures are to remain in place until at least Sept. 27.
Calgary city council voted to rescind its temporary mask bylaw on July 5, but masking is still required on public transit, in taxi cabs and rideshare vehicles as well as in city facilities.