Pandemic response: Calgary closes playgrounds and starts housing homeless in hotels

Pandemic response: Calgary closes playgrounds and starts housing homeless in hotels

Calgary is closing all its playgrounds and will start housing some of the city's homeless in hotels in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.

"The parks will remain open but the playgrounds, specifically, will be closed. It's just not healthy. It's not a great place for kids to be, where they're going to comingle," said Tom Sampson, chief of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency.

"Those of use who have watched kids play, they don't have any sense of that distancing nor do they have that sense of contact with high-touch areas."

Sampson urged other playground operators in the city, like the two major school boards, to follow suit and close their playgrounds. 

  • Watch Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi on the playground closures:

Both the Calgary Board of Education and the Calgary Catholic School District confirmed with CBC News that their playgrounds are now closed. 

Sampson is essentially running the city at this time, after a state of local emergency was declared on March 15. His agency is overseeing the response. 

He had tough words for Calgarians who continue to defy warnings to keep social distance and reduce the spread of COVID-19.

"You are a danger. I mean that. You are a danger. Your actions right now could impact the health of others," he said, adding that people will die from the infection. 

Homeless response

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the city is taking action to reduce an outbreak within the city's homeless population. 

He said the possibility of COVID-19 spreading through the shelters is the "greatest public health issue we're facing today."

  • Watch CEMA chief Tom Sampson on the threat of ignoring public health directives:

To that end, the city will start moving some homeless Calgarians into hotel rooms in order to reduce the population in shelters. 

Nenshi said hoteliers in the city stepped up to volunteer the rooms when the city asked last week. 

He said the response was overwhelming. 

Beyond hotels

In addition to hotel rooms, the city is developing quarantine areas for homeless who need a place to isolate. Agencies are looking for additional spaces, and Alberta Health Services is ensuring staff have adequate equipment and clients are properly screened. 

Sampson said the city is trying to reduce the shelter population by 400 people and that a facility set up to deal with outbreaks would be opened once requested by AHS. 

  • Watch Mayor Naheed Nenshi talk about the threat of an outbreak in the homeless population:

City-run facilities remain closed and there continues to be restrictions on restaurants and bars. 

Nenshi and Sampson encouraged Calgarians to get outside but to be mindful of social distancing and trying to avoid more popular areas.