By COLLIN GALLANT on May 4, 2021.
The pandemic is worsening in Medicine Hat where new cases push the city toward a slate of regional restrictions, say local emergency officials, but those measures outlined just four days ago may be superseded by new rules expected Tuesday.
“I wish I could stand here and tell you that we’re doing great as a city and province,” Merrick Brown, the director of emergency management, told city council in an update Monday.
“We’re at the highest levels we’ve ever been and trending upwards. These are very fluid and dynamic times, and regardless of the regional restriction (hurdles), we’re preparing for new restrictions.”
Late last week the province announced stricter measures would be put in place for so-called hotspots, including most of the province’s large cities which met the criteria of 350 cases per 100,000 people as well as 250 actual cases.
That helped smaller rural municipalities avoid restrictions such as in-person schooling and fitness activities.
After steady increases since early April, Medicine Hat had 231 active cases on Monday. Considering its population, that equals 339 cases per 100,000 people.
But, Brown said those measures may be out of date depending on what is planned for today’s afternoon update, where Premier Jason Kenney has said increased measures will be laid out.
As such, the organization is planning for likely indoor recreation facility closures, and as well that most junior high and high school students will be moved to online learning for some amount of time.
The city would also be able to request the province that a curfew be put in place, such as has been done in Ontario and Quebec, but Mayor Ted Clugston downplayed that idea and said he’ll await Tuesday’s announcement for potential local help.
“We’ve fared fairly well,” he said. “We had a spirited mask debate, but I don’t think this council is on board for a curfew.”
Council passed a local mask bylaw in early December when it appeared the province wouldn’t enact a blanket mask measure for the province. That passed by a 6-3 vote with Clugston and Coun. Jim Turner among the dissenting votes.
On Monday, Turner told the News he still considers regional restrictions are the best route.
“Maybe it’s fact that people are just fed up,” he said, adding that he would like a better breakdown of case severity in Medicine Hat.
“I want AHS to be honest with us.”
Hospitalization has risen dramatically across the province, according to daily updates from health officials.
Brown said “most” Hatters have followed guidelines and done their best to limit the spread.
“There’s a reason why we’re at 200-some cases and some of our similarly sized cities (have higher totals),” he said. “But this has to come with a warning. Their case counts rose very, very fast, so there’s a word of caution for all of us.
“Follow restrictions and get vaccinated, if you can.”
He later stated that a decision on whether to suspend public access to council meetings could be made by administrators this week.
Coun. Jamie McIntosh said sittings in the Alberta legislature have been suspended for two weeks.
“I’m wondering if we’re sitting here sending the right message,” he said.
The city is also re-imposing protocols for crew changes and other work-at-home options for non-essential staff to increase isolation of essential workers.
Coun. Robert Dumanowski, who is a school principal, said by this point most Hatters know someone who has been ill or tested.
An illness means one employee is at home, he added, but exposure can require many more to go into isolation.
“It is impacting this community on a level that’s unprecedented,” said Dumanowski.
Most councillors who spoke agreed with Brown that vaccination and maintaining discipline were central to reversing the rise in cases.
“We all know what the repertoire is for lowering cases,” said Coun. Darren Hirsch.
In terms of vaccinations, firefighters were placed on the list late last week, joining police officers in Phase 2C, and most school staff is eligible to book appointments on Tuesday.