Calgary’s chief emergency management officer is raising the alarm about the rise of cases of COVID-19 in the city.
“I feel a little bit like Chicken Little — I’ve been running around for a long time talking about numbers,” Calgary Emergency Management Agency chief Tom Sampson said Thursday.
“These numbers are different. These numbers are scary numbers. And if we don’t get control on them quickly, we’ll have a problem.”
The CEMA chief was at an emergency management committee to discuss the state of emergency preparedness of the city’s critical infrastructure.
The presentation focused on on the complicated and networked characteristic of that critical infrastructure, concluding with the agency’s handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“Recently, Edmonton was experiencing a higher case rate,” Sampson told committee. “But yesterday, Calgary once again surpassed Edmonton in the cases added to the region in a day.”
Sampson shared the latest COVID-19 data, noting the number of active cases went up to 1260 from 1130 in one day, and the rate of transmission (Rt) went up to 1.45.
“That means that for every 10 people that have [COVID-19], they’re going to give it to 14.5,” Sampson told reporters. “It goes up from there… it’s multiplied, multiple times over. And so we need to pay attention right now.”
Mayor Naheed Nenshi is also concerned about the jump in numbers, saying the city was doing well after the first wave.
“At the end of July, we were flirting with 200 active cases in Calgary and I was feeling much more comfortable thinking, ‘If we can live with a steady state between 200-300 cases at any given time, then we can really start thinking about what that new normal looks like.’”
Nenshi said the current presence of the virus in the city is “more than in the height of the lockdown.”
“Discipline is the best vaccine and we have to make sure that we are continuing to be disciplined.”
Nenshi said the three main pieces of public health advice — “Good hygiene. Keep your distance. Wear your mask.” — are easy to do.
“So all this foolishness about COVID-19] fatigue and, ‘I don’t want to do it’ — it’s selfish and we just can’t afford it anymore,” the mayor said Thursday.
Sampson asks for mask empathy
Sampson did point out that there are some people who, for medical reasons, are unable to wear a mask.
“Don’t be hard on those folks,” Sampson said.
“I want to say we have good social cohesion in Calgary. People are paying attention and they’re doing it. I just need a little bit more right now. Let’s push the trend down.”
Both Sampson and the mayor want Alberta to join the federal contract tracing app, COVID Alert, with Sampson saying it’s “ridiculous” the provincial government hasn’t adopted it yet and that Calgarians should proactively install it on their smartphones.
“Contact tracing is an important part [of stopping the virus]. Those people are working their bones off and they’re not having a lot of luck,” he said.
In September, the government said there was no timeline for when the province would transition to using the federal app from the AB Trace Together.
When asked about the progress of adopting the federal system last Tuesday, chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said “discussions continue to be underway.”
“While we are working through those technical details with the federal government, it’s important to remember that we already have an app that can help to notify people if they are in close proximity through confidential messaging,” she said.
The City of Calgary’s hands are tied when it comes to further measures and restrictions on things like types of businesses that can open or their hours, to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Even under a state of local emergency, those powers lie with the province.
“There was very little contemplated [during the formation of the Emergency Management Act for local powers] for a health emergency,” Sampson told committee. “And as such, our reliance on Dr. [Deena] Hinshaw and the Health Act is high — they’re the lead.
“And if there’s something that needs to be done, quite honestly, it’s them who need to step up and say what it is.”
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