Interim City Manager Adam Laughlin appeared before a socially distanced meeting of City Councillors to repeat the message that decisions made to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic are made to balance service levels now with service levels in the future.
“We have adjusted a range of City services to reflect changing circumstances,” said Laughlin.
“We need to game-plan to maximize the opportunity to provide a service—and not no service.”
Laughlin’s general theme emerged in a specific discussion of Edmonton Transit Service’s decision to move to, and then modify, Saturday service starting Tuesday, March 17.
Laughlin stressed that fewer buses also mean a more resilient system.
“Reduced service means that fewer operators are on the road as COVID-19 infection rates increase,” said Laughlin.
“Fewer buses in operation means that we can do more vigorous cleaning and disinfecting on vehicles that are in use,” he said. “The scaling back of transit service strikes the right balance between managing the health of drivers and ensuring consistent and safe services for patrons.”
Laughlin indicated the art of delivering municipal services during a pandemic is to make the sometimes difficult, long-term decisions, while, at the same time, closely monitoring effects of those decisions and quickly adjusting them to provide the best service possible.
Basically, decisions to strengthen the immunity of the system.
“We believe our Saturday transit schedule will meet the need to ensure local critical service over the long term,” he said.
“Scaling back is a strategic decision to keep us strong for the long haul.”
Laughlin assured Councillors and transit passengers that the short term is also in the view of transit planners.
“As a standing practice, we will put buses on standby, for quick response to overcrowding and unanticipated high demand,” said Laughlin. “Supervisors are on the streets supporting these quick decisions as they need to be made and communicating with commuters.”
Also at City Hall, Mayor Don Iveson indicated the City is poised to take significant action to protect Edmonton’s homeless and vulnerable populations from the effects of COVID-19.
“An outbreak in that community would be an avoidable public health tragedy,” Iveson said.
“The resources are starting to flow,” he said. “What would be very helpful at this point would be clear empowerment from the Provincial Government to stand up the kind of facilities and response that is needed. We need to activate some facilities to host people who are either in distress or keep them separate from folks who may have contracted the virus.”
The mayor has in mind services like those established during previous emergencies, and more.
“We need not just traditional shelter and accommodation like you’d see for the Fort McMurray fire, for example, but also a series of additional public health measures around that that we need to coordinate with AHS but also have support from Community and Social Services.”
State of local emergency not yet required, cooperation happening
In a presentation from Laughlin, Edmonton city councillors heard that the declaration of a state of local emergency is not yet necessary.
“The powers we currently need are in place through the Province’s declaration of the Public Health Emergency,” he said.
Laughlin later noted that some measures other municipalities take after declaring a state of local emergency, such as closing recreation centres, have already been implemented in Edmonton.
City of Edmonton officials continue to monitor the situation and are ready to act should a state of local emergency be warranted.
Laughlin said that based on field monitoring to date, this is not yet an issue, citing how Edmontonians and the business community are working collaboratively to support each other.
The good word
Mayor Iveson paid tribute to Edmontonians who are coming together.
“I want to thank Edmontonians themselves for everything that they’re doing to help flatten the curve,” he said.
“We truly appreciate your efforts to protect our communities and though this will be tough-going, I’m confident that we are resilient and we will get through this together.”
More in a recent blog post on flattening the curve.
Editor’s Note: Present at the City Council meeting, separated by approximately six feet, were Mayor Don Iveson and Councillors Tim Cartmell, Jon Dziadyk, Sarah Hamilton and Ben Henderson. Joining on the phone were Councillors Moe Banga, Tony Caterina, Bev Esslinger, Andrew Knack, Scott McKeen, Mike Nickel, Aaron Paquette and Michael Walters.
Watch the entire news conference here: