COVID-19 causing staffing shortages, service impacts at City of Calgary

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COVID-19 causing staffing shortages, service impacts at City of Calgary
WATCH: Rising COVID-19 cases have forced the City of Calgary to make changes to its recreation services. As Adam MacVicar reports, there are now plans in place in preparation of further staffing shortages and impacts to public services – Jan 5, 2022

COVID-19 has caused Calgary to shut down some city-led programs for the year while other city departments face staffing shortages.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek joined Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) Chief Susan Henry in a joint news conference Wednesday morning to update where the city stands in the face of the pandemic.

The mayor urged everyone to get their vaccine — whether it be their first, second or booster dose. She also reminded people just because you have the vaccine, doesn’t mean you’re fully protected from getting the virus.

“Please do not view it that you are now immune to this,” Gondek explained.

“You’re not immune from contracting COVID-19 again and having even worse symptoms than the first time that you had it. Speak with your doctor and plan for your next vaccine or booster shot.”

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The mayor went on to say it was the least Calgarians can do to help show support for those who have worked tirelessly around the clock in the past two years.

“As much as we are all exhausted from this pandemic, and I’m sure many of you are, our health-care workers are actually more so. They’re saving lives every day… Do yourselves and them a favour by getting vaccinated, please.”

At the same time, Gondek praised the northeast part of the city that hit a 99 per cent vaccination rate among those who are eligible, while the southeast has a 100 per cent vaccination rate for both doses for those over the age of 75.

Henry said many had hoped the state of the pandemic would have been different in 2022, however, the Omicron variant is proving to be a challenge and continues “throwing another curveball” when it comes to the city’s emergency management plan.

The Omicron variant is spreading faster than anything officials have seen since the pandemic began, according to Henry.

“Throughout the last few provincial updates, we’ve seen some of our highest case numbers to date,” she explained.

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“One thing that we know for certain is that the reported case numbers are not reflective of the true caseload in the community, which is likely much much higher.”

At this time, Henry added there are currently no plans to end the vaccine passport bylaw along with the pandemic face-covering bylaw.

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Extending mobile vaccine program

The city’s mobile vaccine program will be extended yet again. The city-led program was launched in Sept. 2021 and was in addition to the provincial government’s effort in vaccine rollout.

The CEMA chief said the city will continue to partner with Industry for Vaccination — which is comprised of TRAXX, ACESO Medical and 19 to Zero — as long as the “supply of vaccination and the demand is there” from Calgarians.

Vaccinations from the mobile program remain on a first-come-first-served basis.

“Over the last few weeks, the demand has been very high,” Henry said, adding that the locations are outside and with the recent cold temperatures, people should remember to layer up and plan for the cold weather.

By end of day Wednesday, the city’s mobile vaccine program will have provided more than 5,000 vaccinations to Calgarians.

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To find out where the mobile vaccination sites are, click here or you can call 311.

CPS COVID-19 infections

The Calgary Police Service has the highest number of COVID-19 infections among employees since the start of the pandemic, according to Henry.

CPS confirmed there are 36 active cases amongst its members, and another 35 members are in isolation awaiting test results.

In an effort to minimize disruption to emergency services, CPS started to redeploy officers from other areas of the organization to support others on the frontline.

“With this redeployment plan, and as things currently stand, members of the public can rely on the fact that if they are in crisis we will have the resources to support them,” the police said in a statement. “There will, however, be some impact on other services including proactive community policing, youth intervention and support services, as well as increased length of investigations for some offences.”

Henry added, the public can help reduce the strain on police resources by using the Calgary police online reporting system for non-urgent incidents, instead of calling 911.

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Incidents that can be reported online include: car prowling, theft of credit or debit card, mischief to vehicle, mischief to property, lost property, attempted stolen vehicle, break and enter of an unlocked premise, theft from a parkade or vehicle parked in a parade and theft of mail.

City staff shortages

Henry said some people may have already seen the impact this fifth wave has had on the city as certain services and programs have been either scaled back or cancelled entirely.

Though the number changes by the hour, Cameron Nicholson from Calgary’s environmental safety management system said. Anywhere between 25 and 50 city employees have called in sick in the past few days.

“We are tracking those individuals … and then going into the areas that they were working, ensuring that they are clean so that we reduce the chance of transmission between one individual in the next,” Nicholson explained.

As of Wednesday, Henry said 93 per cent of city employees are fully vaccinated. Those who aren’t, are required to regularly partake in rapid testing.

Winter swim lessons along with the city’s playschool have been postponed until Jan. 10 to align with the government of Alberta’s decision to extend the student winter break province wide.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: No school this week for Alberta K-12 students'
COVID-19: No school this week for Alberta K-12 students

Public skate times at city-owned arenas have been put on hold until further notice. Village Square arena and the ice at Southland Leisure Centre remain open with applicable health restrictions.

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According to city officials, league games and practices for hockey and ringette can continue.

Henry explained all city-run businesses have continuity and contingency plans in place which are developed and refined on an ongoing basis.

Should there be a need for certain staffing levels, depending on the department and circumstances, there could be the option for a person who has symptoms to work, Nicholson said. For example, he said when it comes to the roads department, they could end up having a person “who is mildly ill” to operate a vehicle plowing the city roads.

A spokesperson for the city’s roads department said there haven’t been impacts so far, and enhanced cleaning measures are in place for their vehicles.

“We do have contingency plans in place but thankfully we haven’t had any impacts the operation,” spokesperson Chris McGeachy said. “However, we will continue to monitor the situation as it can change day-to-day.”

Meanwhile, Calgary Transit is operating with a “skeleton staff,” according to the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 583.

Union president Mike Mahar said there have been more than 100 overtime shifts just this week, and he is concerned about how the return-to-school and bus routes will be impacted next week.

“Whatever happens on those school runs as far as exposure and people contracting COVID, there’s a real potential for things to mushroom quickly,” Mahar told Global News.

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According to city officials, any and all changes or impacts to city services will be posted regularly on the City of Calgary website.

–with files from Adam MacVicar, Global News

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