Coronavuris: How is Calgary’s Emergency Management Agency preparing?

As Calgary and the world continue to grapple with the fast-spreading coronavirus pandemic, the city’s emergency management agency — CEMA — is telling the city and its government to be prepared for anything.

Speaking to Calgary city council on Wednesday, CEMA chief Tom Sampson said the focus of his team is to prevent a rapid rise in Calgary cases, adding the city is not immune.

‘This is going to come’

“We’re not special. This is going to come. But I think that we can make a special effort to delay it coming,” Sampson said.

He said delaying the spread and severity will give health-care facilities more time to get out of the current flu season. He said it also removes some of the confusion around whether people have the common flu or COVID-19 and allows more experimentation with anti-virals as well as the exploration of a possible vaccine.

“Our priority is the safety and well-being of Calgarians and city staff,” Sampson said. “The way we see it is… if we can keep city staff healthy, to provide the essential services to Calgarians, to continue to put the messaging out, to continue to support Alberta Health Services, we’ll be in the best shape that we can be in.”

The number of confirmed cases in Alberta rose to 19 on Wednesday, the same day the World Health Organization officially called COVID-19 a pandemic.

As of Wednesday, all of Alberta’s cases were travel-related, however, Sampson said he “absolutely” believes community transmission will happen in Calgary, which CEMA is preparing for.

He said the city’s infectious disease management plan, created at least 12 to 14 years ago, was reviewed just six months ago and officials are working to maintain the health and well-being of staff and support the containment of COVID-19.

“When containment doesn’t work anymore, what we have to go to is individual risk mitigation,” Sampson said.

Sampson said that self-mitigation should include the advice health officials have been giving out since the outbreak started: washing your hands, not touching your face, containing coughs and sneezes.

Advice around major events

Sampson said through the process of managing the ever-changing, daily response to the spread of coronavirus, CEMA has been meeting with Calgary Economic Development, the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, Calgary Tourism, the Calgary Stampede and post-secondary institutions to help guide their decision-making.

“We’re being very aggressive in terms of our meetings and trying to share information so those partners can look at the operation of Calgary and how we as a group… collaborate together,” he said.

When it comes to large gatherings, they’re being evaluated on a case-by-case basis. The decisions are being made with the help of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s document on mass gatherings and whether they should be held.

“We are going to have to cancel some events, and I think the important thing that we do is we do it in a measured way,” Sampson said.

He said the Safety Expo that was cancelled earlier this week was called off because having 4,000 children from across the city running around an enclosed space and interacting with each other “perfectly met their guidelines to cancel an event.”

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said all city-organized events are being evaluated quickly.

“We’re going to have a very small team working quickly, applying a bunch of criteria that have been provided by the Canadian government on gatherings,” Nenshi said.

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