Calgary to take measures to act on COVID-19 crisis, citing ‘province that doesn’t care’

Calgary’s mayor says the city will explore measures it can take to protect residents from the flood of COVID-19 cases overwhelming the province’s health-care system.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi made the comments just hours after Premier Jason Kenney announced the province was days away from running out of ICU staff to treat patients. The number of patients in intensive care units were at an all time high, and Alberta was asking other provinces for health-care workers or ICU staff. 

As well, doctors were being told to prepare to make life-or-death decisions as to which patients will be able to access interventions like ventilators.

“Regardless of the politics and the ideology and the endless lurching back and forth like a Stampede ride that we’re hearing from the province, your city government is here for you … and we’ll continue to do what it takes to get us out of this,” Nenshi said, following city council’s last meeting of the session late Wednesday evening.

One action the mayor suggested was for the city to partner with local pharmacies to bring mobile vaccination buses to locations like train stations to lower barriers to access. He added that Alberta Health System leadership previously mocked him for suggesting a pop-up vaccine clinic should be set up during the Calgary Stampede in July. 

“It’s clear that Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services have abandoned targeted vaccination efforts except for one bus in all of Alberta,” Nenshi said in a scrum following the meeting.

Earlier, Kenney’s government announced a swathe of new restrictions and a state of emergency.

But beyond apologizing for treating the pandemic as endemic “too soon,” the premier largely stood by decisions his government had made last July to drop public health measures for the summer and not reintroduce them until after cases, hospitalizations and deaths were snowballing.

“I’m having a hard time articulating … what I just heard from a dumpster fire of a press conference,” Coun. Druh Farrell said when Calgary city council’s meeting resumed after the provincial announcement.

“I’m tired of asking for permission from a province that truly doesn’t care.”

Calgary’s Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) Chief Sue Henry told council that 105 people have died since the last city COVID-19 update on Sept. 3 — less than two weeks ago.

The city’s case counts had grown by more than 1,700 and the rate at which cases were spreading was growing.

‘Vibrating with anger’

Farrell said she was “vibrating with anger” because the situation the province is in now is so predictable. She asked if the city or CEMA can take any action — even though health care falls under the province’s mandate.

Nenshi added that it’s time for the city to stop asking for permission. “I’m tired of being told everything’s OK … it’s not good enough.”

Council voted unanimously in favour of a motion that will allow the mayor to recall council to meet again before the October municipal election in order to act on the public health emergency, if needed.

The City of Calgary heard Wednesday that ICU beds have rapidly filled with COVID cases in recent weeks, mostly people who are not vaccinated. (City of Calgary)

The city will also consider whether to craft a bylaw to make the new proof-of-vaccination program, which the province said businesses can choose to opt in to, mandatory for discretionary businesses. Proof of vaccination will be required to access some city services. 

“It all depends on the quality of the provincial regulations. If they’re poor, then we may have to pass our own bylaw to clarify them and that would require a council meeting,” the mayor said.

Businesses that opt out of the provincial program will be subject to additional health restrictions, but the mayor suggested that some of the restrictions — like relatively high capacity limits — lack teeth.

“The ‘restrictions exemption’ program is a vaccine passport but the government tied themselves into knots because they had said there would be no vaccine passport. As a result there’s some really unfair and unfortunate pressure on businesses to decide what to do,” Nenshi.

Coun. Ward Sutherland said he will call a meeting of the Business Advisory Committee on Friday to discuss the idea.

And, Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart suggested the city and CEMA step up messaging to help people navigate the new restrictions and access vaccination information. 

“The way [the province has] been communicating and the lack thereof is not going to serve our purposes for our city,” Colley-Urquhart said. 

Wednesday marked what will likely be Nenshi’s last council meeting as mayor. He said he didn’t expect to end it as an expert in dealing with crises. 

But the mayor ended the night on a hopeful note, pointing to the fact that more than 80 per cent of eligible Calgarians are vaccinated. He said the city will continue to work to protect residents. 

“We’ll do what it takes,” Nenshi said. 

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