SUNDRE - Regularly scheduled meetings of Sundre’s municipal council have been postponed for the time being.
“We’ve decided that we will postpone the agendas for the next three council meetings,” said mayor Terry Leslie.
Council meetings are typically held every second week, and one had been scheduled for Monday, March 23.
If required, Leslie added council can still call an emergent meeting within 24 hours that could be conducted by teleconference.
Emeregncy meetings have been held including one where council reviewed the municipality’s emergency response plan and was also updated on developments about the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic.
“We just want to assure the public that all of our essential services will continue to operate without interruption,” he said.
The town's office closed to the public at the end of the day on March 18 but residents can call 403-638-3551 with any questions.
While there are temporary closures including recreational facilities like the arena, curling rink, community centre, the library, and the Aquaplex, Leslie stressed that utilities like gas, water and wastewater remain operational, and that the collection bin schedule will continue. On March 24, the town added playgrounds to the list of facilities closed to the public.
There is of course a balance between needing the capacity to continue municipal operations while also factoring in the health and safety of staff and the community, he said, adding practices like social distancing are encouraged and that some staff are if needed being accommodated to work from home.
“What we’re doing is taking really seriously the recommendations from health professionals,” he said, calling the pandemic, “a health crisis.”
However, council has not yet decided to declare a local state of emergency, as has occurred in in other areas including Innisfail.
“Right now, there isn’t a need to have extraordinary powers,” he said.
“Critical infrastructure is not at risk.”
Of course the situation is dynamic, changing daily, and the municipality is prepared to respond virtually immediately as need be in light of new developments, he said.
A spring workshop that had been scheduled in Red Deer early in April has also been postponed to a later, as yet determined date, he said.
“There is no critical need to deal with this right now,” he said, adding, “It won’t affect the passing of our tax rate bylaw.”
Spring workshops provide an opportunity to consider future plans, and members of council can in the meantime continue to do their homework, he said.
Additionally, he said the spring workshop is a time-consuming task for administrative staff who must compile information and prepare presentations.
“They really got their hands full right now,” he said.
So with “all hands on deck to ensure services continue,” he said council agreed the workshop could be rescheduled.
From a provincial perspective, the mayor said he is satisfied with the response from the Alberta government.
“We’re living the benefit of other countries having gone through this prior to us,” he said, adding some of those lessons “are being integrated into the way this health crisis is being dealt with.”
In response to people who claim the measures to mitigate the pandemic are an overreaction to an imaginary crisis, Leslie said, “First of all, it’s an insult to Alberta Health Services staff.”
But also particularly to local physicians and front line medical professionals as well as first responders who are actively working to mitigate the contagion’s spread. When looking at information that is coming in daily, the virus is unmistakably spreading, he said.
“It’s being taken seriously. If we don’t, we’ll be underreacting to a potential life-threatening circumstance for more people. We don’t want to see more deaths,” he said.
Better to overreact with a cogent plan, he said, than to underreact in denial and allow the situation to devolve further.
“Those with immune compromised systems, those who are medically fragile, are the people we are trying to protect.”
Having been alongside his parents when they passed away, he expressed gratitude that they had been provided with care and comfort that minimized their suffering during their final days.
“That’s a societal thing that we cherish and hold very dear.”
The last thing Leslie said he wants to see is a repeat of what’s been happening in Italy. In that country's efforts to triage more patients than the health-care systems can handle, doctors are forced to decide who will receive potentially life-saving treatment, and who will not.
Looking for a silver lining, the mayor said never before in the history of mankind has there been a better time to deal with such a crisis — a wealth of knowledge and resources will help find ways to mitigate the pandemic's worst potential outcomes, he said.
In the weeks and months ahead, he said everyone cannot depend entirely on medical professionals and governments alone — everyone has a role to play to “flatten the curve,” he said.
When asked what he has been doing, the mayor said he had been trying to stay home as per the official recommendation to practise social distancing.
The avid walker who can often be seen going for a stroll along Sundre’s paths said, “I have noticed a lot more people on the trails. I see folks getting out and walking around.”
The most important thing to remember, he said, is to avoid “falling into the traps of panic and fear.”
The virus will not be life threatening for the vast majority of healthy people who contract the contagion, he said, urging people not to take any more than they need to ensure others, including responders who often don’t get to shop until long after regular hours, don’t find bare shelves.
“The hoarding behaviour is dysfunctional,” he said.
But on the bright side, he said many people in the community have already been seeking to touch base with vulnerable residents including isolated seniors, offering not only to help run errands like getting groceries and picking up mail, but also reminding them they’re not forgotten or alone.
“This challenge is a chance for us to be the best we can be,” he said, confident that despite the circumstances, most people will be caring and compassionate.
The mayor said his thoughts and prayers are with the front line professionals and responders across the spectrum who are working hard during this time of duress, and expressed faith in the bright minds and strong systems that are in place to help weather the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ll get through this.”