EXPO Centre readied as COVID-19 precautions heightened for Edmonton’s most vulnerable

The Edmonton EXPO Centre took rapid shape this weekend and is ready to serve as a COVID-19 emergency site for some of the city’s most vulnerable citizens. 

“As the Premier announced [Friday] afternoon, the EXPO Centre will be used for surge capacity,” said Interim City Manager Adam Laughlin. “Local shelters, including Hope Mission and Mustard Seed, are also increasing capacity via additional sites.” 

Cots, bedding, hygiene products and personnel began moving to the EXPO Centre last week. The City is working with Community and Social Services, Alberta Health Services, Homeward Trust and several other community partners, including the Bissell Centre and Boyle Street Community Services.

Drop-in service, isolation centre
A drop-in centre in a space large enough to provide social distancing will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m seven days a week for those without access to housing and who are not showing any COVID-19 symptoms.

A separate portion of the EXPO Centre is reserved for those experiencing homelessness who have been exposed to the coronavirus or who have symptoms of COVID-19. This area will be used as a 24/7 isolation centre in which medical, public health and mental health supports are available. 

The isolation centre is scheduled to open this evening, Monday, March 23.  

The centre is not open to the general public.

State of local emergency
Friday’s announcement of the EXPO Centre’s role in the fight against COVID-19 happened on the same day the City of Edmonton officially announced a state of local emergency. 

There is a connection between that declaration and the green light to ready the EXPO Centre. 

“Declaring a state of local emergency allows us to manage the situation in the most effective way possible,” said Mayor Don Iveson. “It also allows us to put additional measures and resources in place to ensure our city’s most vulnerable people, in particular, are not left behind in this crisis.” 

EXPO Centre takes shape
Here’s some of the story from weekend preparations.

Here, a socially distanced group of City of Edmonton leaders (clockwise from left, City Solicitor Bonnie Andriachuk, Edmonton Transit Service Branch Manager Eddie Robar, Deputy Fire Chief Rob Squire and Interim City Manager Adam Laughlin) discusses the technicalities of transit service to EXPO Centre. 

The day program facility is set up. It is a comfortable setting for people experiencing homelessness and is a safe space to come to during the day.

The work to enlist the EXPO Centre in the fight against COVID-19 is happening with the collaborative work of governments and health and community experts. Here, Jackie Lui, Director of Operations at the Boyle McCauley Health Centre, talks to organizers about isolation protocols at the EXPO Centre. 

Respect, working as one
On Friday, Laughlin explained that declaring a state of local emergency “gives us the ability in a controlled and respectful way to ensure that we’re supporting our vulnerable community to move to the locations that are appropriate based on the conditions they’re in.” 

Interim City Manager Adam Laughlin at news conference, City Hall, March 20, 2020

Laughlin on Friday also announced that the City and union partners had signed a COVID-19 Redeployment Agreement. This means employees can work across different areas of the City as needs arise. 

 “This is the kind of partnership that demonstrates we are all in this together and working through challenges as one,” said Laughlin.