Planning for ripples and waves in Edmonton’s pandemic response

Interim City Manager Adam Laughlin laid out the current COVID-19 landscape and what the City of Edmonton is doing to keep the best information coming in so the best decisions go out. 

“We hope to never need to escalate the risk level and activate new actions, but the City is ready should circumstances change,” said Laughlin. 

“Administration is preparing for a second wave or widespread outbreak and has mapped out possible courses of action in partnership with public health officials,” Laughlin said. “We are using the escalation model as the framework to guide our actions—immediate, short term and long term.”

This is what the model looks like. 

Super-positive compliance

Right now, Edmonton is at Level One: Limited Risk. This means the City is actively working to educate the public and is monitoring how well Edmontonians are complying with public health requirements and the face coverings bylaw. 

Right now, things are promising on that front. In a physically distanced meeting with City Council, Laughlin said face-covering compliance is 96 per cent in all locations the City monitors, calling it “super-positive in terms of a response from Edmontonians.” 

Laughlin added: “We anticipate that the return to school will go a long way in making the  wearing of a face covering a standard practice in public spaces and on transit.” 

 Edmonton City Council Chambers, August 27, 2020

Worrisome numbers

But Edmonton remains on the provincial watch status with an infection rate of 51.5 per 100,000 population. Other numbers that reflect community spread of the virus remain worrisome.

5: zones in Edmonton on watch status (Castle Downs, Abbottsfield, Eastwood, Northeast and Northgate). 

17: outbreak locations in the Edmonton zone, including: 

1: acute care facility

5: long-term care facilities

6: supportive living sites

1: church

2: private gatherings

“It’s clear from the data that people have not yet fully adapted their social behaviours and routines to create consistently safe interactions,” said Laughlin. 

“Holding a safe gathering with friends and family may be a bit inconvenient but it is what will save lives.”

Younger adults

Alberta Health Services data also shows that younger adults are more likely to pass on the virus unknowingly and rapidly, Laughlin said.

“In the past, outbreaks tended to be concentrated in Edmonton’s extended/long term care facilities,” Laughlin said. “Now, many new cases are linked to the 20-40 year old demographic that is more mobile and social.”

(Check out and share Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s three key tips for people to safely host parties and social gatherings.)

Interim City Manager Adam Laughlin, City Hall, Edmonton, August 27, 2020

Escalation model

The City’s model clearly lays out a tightening of restrictions if the pandemic worsens in Edmonton.

For instance, Level Two would mean restrictions to or closures of City-owned facilities, programs and services. It would delay or alter return to work strategies for City staff.

Moving from one stage to the next wouldn’t be based solely on immediate active cases and rates of infection, but include analysis of the general drift of the virus in Edmonton, and, importantly, evidence that additional restrictive measures could work.

At a news conference after the City Council meeting, Edmonton Journal reporter Dustin Cook asked if it’s possible for the City to apply different levels of the model in different areas of the city, depending on local infection rates. 

Laughlin said the flexibility exists.

“When it comes to City facilities, programs or services, we have the ability to take a location-specific approach,” said Laughlin, adding: “We wouldn’t do that unless it was something we were guided to do by our health officials.” 

Some of the work underway

Since Edmonton was put on the provincial watch list, City teams have been meeting more often and sharing information with Alberta Health Services and the Edmonton zone pandemic response team. The City is working with community groups and businesses in watch zones in the city to spread pandemic safety messages. And the City is doing more enforcement patrols in watch zone communities. 

Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, has said the question of what comes next—a big second wave or a series of small ripples or smaller waves—is in our hands. 

The City is planning and will be ready to react for what comes next, wave or ripple. 

“Administration continues to have an important role in reminding Edmontonians that they have a responsibility to protect each other and themselves,” said Laughlin.