Edmonton council frustrated by lack of COVID-19 data, measures from province

·3 min read

Edmonton city councillors say they are frustrated at the province's lack of information and steps taken to curb the recent spike in COVID-19 cases.

At council's emergency advisory committee Thursday, several councillors said they're concerned the Alberta government isn't sharing data or taking the necessary measures to address the pandemic.

"I do have some frustration with the lack of transparency around the data and modelling and where we are, and where we need to get to," said Coun. Michael Walters.

He noted the province was more forthcoming in the spring, but that openness seems to have disappeared.

"I don't know exactly how bad things are going to get and the various pathways that we can travel together as a community to avoid the worst case scenario," Walters said. "That's not being shown to us.

Mayor Don Iveson noted the Edmonton zone has the highest number of cases in the province.

"What are the trigger points for stronger measures that you look to bring in at the regional scale?" Iveson asked Dr. Michael Zakhary, a medical officer of health for the Edmonton zone, who joined the meeting to answer questions. "This is the question I'm getting endlessly now."

Iveson wondered if rising transmission rates, positivity testing rates or hospitalization numbers will trigger tighter restrictions.

Last Friday, the province suspended indoor group activities and team sports for two weeks, and ordered restaurants and pubs to stop serving alcohol at 10 p.m. and close by 11 p.m.

Zakhary said further restrictions are in the hands of Alberta Health.

"We haven't had information from Alberta Health about the triggers for the next for the next action," Zakhary said.

Iveson said he's hearing more people calling for further measures.

"The public wants to know, and so do we," Iveson said.

The city has the authority to impose restrictions, including curfews or limiting hours for non-essential businesses, but the Alberta government can do the same more swiftly under the Alberta Health Act.

Edmonton police have the authority to issue fines under provincial health orders, but city bylaw and peace officers can only hand out tickets to people violating the city's face-covering byaw.

Interim city manager Adam Laughlin announced no new restrictions Thursday.

City managers are working with neighbouring municipalities to look at what collective steps can be taken without the province, Laughlin said.

The city is also working with Calgary on a "cohesive" approach to measures and guidelines, he said.

Edmonton can declare a state of local emergency, as it did in March, but Iveson said that authority is meant more for natural disasters and not health pandemics.

Looming deadline

Council's emergency advisory committee was scheduled to next meet on Dec. 10 but Coun. Andrew Knack suggested, considering the urgency of the situation, it should meet again next week. He's hoping to have answers by then.

"Everyone's been using the phrase, 'We're all in this together,'" Knack said.

"Well, those are fairly meaningless words if we don't have the information and the data to come together as a collective group of governments, as administrations, as the public — to work through this."

Iveson agreed to schedule the meeting for Nov. 27, the same day the province's temporary restrictions are to end.

Council will vote on extending the city's face covering bylaw to May 31 on Friday afternoon.

The bylaw, which went into effect Aug. 1, requires people to wear a mask or face covering in all indoor public places. The fine for not doing so is $100.

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