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City employees hit hard by Omicron: what we learned from Calgary's first COVID-19 update of 2022

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The City of Calgary hosted its first COVID-19 update of 2022 on Wednesday to let Calgarians know how they're responding to the quickly-spreading Omicron variant.

During the morning news conference, Mayor Jyoti Gondek and Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) chief Susan Henry touched on everything from how the Omicron variant has impacted city programs to their continued testing of city employees.

"I know we'd all hope to be in a different place as we started 2022," Henry said. "Omicron is again throwing another curveball at the city."

CITY SERVICES IMPACTED BY SICKNESS

Henry said like all businesses, the City of Calgary continues to feel the pressure of COVID-19.

"The sharp rise in cases that we're seeing means more sickness, and more absences among our city staff, which in turn increases the challenge of maintaining public services for the community," Henry said.

"Citizens will already notice that some city services have been affected by staff shortages due to COVID and these changes are likely to continue for the coming weeks."

Recreation programs have felt the greatest impact, with winter swim lessons for preschool/child levels postponed until Jan. 10 and public skate times cancelled until further notice at city-operated arenas, except for Village Square and Southland Leisure Centre.

"Calgary recreation continues to actively monitor the impact that Omicron is having on staffing levels at all of the rec facilities and programs, and is committed to keeping registrants and the public informed of any changes to services as they advance," Henry said.

For the most up-to-date information, the public is asked to visit calgary.ca/recreation.

JUST HOW MANY EMPLOYEES ARE SICK?

When asked how many City of Calgary employees are off sick right now, Cameron Nicholson from the city's Environmental Safety Management System said it varies from day to day, but they've seen anywhere from 25 to 50 people calling in sick the past few days.

"We're tracking the locations that they are working, and then going into the areas that they were working, ensuring that they are clean so that we reduce the chance of transmission between one and ritual in the next," Nicholson said.

CONTINGENCY PLANS SO CALGARY CAN KEEP OFFERING ESSENTIAL SERVICES

Henry said Wednesday that the City of Calgary is taking the steps to mitigate risks to essential public services.

"These are services where even a temporary disruption to those services would impact life safety, the safety of our community (and) our economy of Calgarians."

Henry said all city business units have business continuity and contingency plans in place.

"These plans have been developed and refined over many planning cycles and adapted to meet the needs of the pandemic," she said.

"Business continuity plans include processes to prioritize services and reassign staff where we are able to do that."

WILL ESSENTIAL SERVICES EMPLOYEES EVER BE ASKED TO WORK WHEN SICK?

Nicholson said that the City of Calgary has contingencies in place that could see an individual or group of individuals come to work even if sick.

"Those contingencies are reliant on the type of work and how many individuals we may end up having working," he said.

"So as an example, working in roads, we could end up having a person who is mildly ill come into work, working in a vehicle plowing the city roads."

CALGARY POLICE SEEING HIGHEST INFECTION RATE SINCE PANDEMIC STARTED

Henry said Wednesday that the Calgary Police Service is seeing "the highest number of COVID-19 infections among employees" since the start of the pandemic.

"To minimize disruption to emergency services, Calgary police has started to redeploy officers from other areas of the organization to support the frontline workers who are already stretched thin prior to this wave of COVID-19," she said.

"With this redeployment plan, and as things currently stand, members of the public can rely on the fact that if they are in crisis, Calgary police will have the resources to support them."

Henry acknowledged there will be "some impact" on other services provided by Calgary police, including proactive community policing, youth intervention and support services, as well as the increased length of investigation for some offenses.

She asked members of the public to help reduce the strain on resources by using CPS's Online Reporting System for non-urgent incidents.

CPS CONFIRMS 36 MEMBERS HAVE COVID-19, 35 SYMPTOMATIC AND ISOLATING

Several hours after the news conference, the Calgary Police Service issued a statement saying they have been taking steps to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and track and monitor those employees who have tested positive or are symptomatic and isolating.

"The vast majority of our members understand the importance of vaccinations and as such we currently have a vaccination rate of just over 93 per cent," CPS said. "As we have seen in the general community, however, this does not prevent transmission."

As of Wednesday, CPS said it had 36 members that have tested positive for COVID-19. Of those, 33 are fully vaccinated.

There are also 35 members who are symptomatic and isolating.

"Although these numbers are relatively small given the size of our organization, we have had to adjust some shifts to provide additional support to the frontline," CPS said.

"This specific area of the service was already facing staffing challenges, including higher than anticipated attrition rates due to city pension changes, as well as COVID restrictions on hiring and training."

Regardless, CPS says officers will continue to serve the community.

"With this redeployment plan, and as things currently stand, members of the public can rely on the fact that if they are in crisis we will have the resources to support them."

CPS said there will be an impact on other service, including proactive community policing, youth intervention and support services, as well as increased length of investigations for some offences.

93% OF CITY OF CALGARY EMPLOYEES FULLY VACCINATED

Henry said 93 per cent of city employees are full vaccinated and those who are not are required to undergo rapid regular rapid testing.

Voluntary rapid testing is also being made available to vaccinated employees who support the delivery of essential services.

CITY USING RAPID TESTS ON EMPLOYEES

Nicholson said the City of Calgary has "a number" of rapid tests they ordered back in November that they have been using on employees.

"We have been using those on the unvaccinated staff as part of our rapid testing program that we started at the beginning of November, where those individuals who did not have the vaccine ended up having two rapid tests per week," Nicholson said.

"We are working through those tests. We have ordered some additional tests."

The tests are especially important for employees who are working in essential roles, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, Nicholson said.

"We are fully aware that there is a limited supply of these rapid tests in Alberta. There is a growing supply as we speak, and we expect that the supply will meet up with the demand.

"So for the moment, we are using those rapid tests for those individuals who are unvaccinated and we are using those rapid tests that we have on site for those individuals who are in those essential roles that Calgarians need to make sure are at work.”

Nicholson said the City of Calgary received just over 100,000 rapid tests as recently as Tuesday and are distributing them to those essential services.

However, he clarified the majority of the tests are going to unvaccinated staff.

The tests the City of Calgary has are coming from both the province and a private company, Nicholson said.

"In the past we had a strong partnership with the University of Calgary in developing our rapid testing program, and we have shared a number of our tests with the University of Calgary as they were having some difficulties meeting some short-term demands with their program.

"So we are doing some sharing, we are limiting tests to the people who are essential."

THREE PLY MASKS PROVIDED TO CITY OF CALGARY STAFF

The City of Calgary has distributed three-ply masks to employees and is continuing to do enhanced cleaning of city facilities and city vehicles continues.

"These are all done in an effort to ensure that we are able to continue delivering essential services to the public," Henry said.

Henry said employees who can work from home are being asked to do so.

MOBILE VACCINATION PROGRAM EXTENDED

Henry said the city is extending its mobile vaccination program.

"This program is an addition to the provincial vaccine effort, and we do have limited capacity," she explained.

"The vaccinations are (offered) on a first-come first-served basis, and over the last few weeks the demand has been very high," Henry added.

Because many of the mobile vaccination locations are outside, Henry advised those interested in visiting to dress for thee cold weather.

"By the end of today, the city's mobile vaccine program will have provided over 5,000 vaccinations to Calgarians," Henry said Wednesday. "This is first doses, second doses and booster shots to adults across the city."

Henry said the vaccination clinics will continue as the supply of vaccination and the demand is there.

For more information on Calgary's mobile vaccination clinics you can visit calgary.ca/covid or you can call 311.

MUNICIPAL EMERGENCY PLAN STILL ACTIVATED

Calgary's Municipal Emergency Plan remains activated due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

CALGARY'S VACCINE PASSPORT BYLAW, FACE COVERING BYLAW STILL IN PLACE

Calgary's Vaccine Passport Bylaw and Pandemic Face Covering Bylaw remain in place.

The Vaccine Passport Bylaw requires many businesses and organizations to require proof of vaccination, recent negative COVID-19 test, or valid medical exemption letter to gain entry.

The Pandemic Face Covering Bylaw requires people to wear a face covering or mask in indoor public spaces and public vehicles.

Failure to wear a face covering where required can result in a penalty of $500 and failure to display prescribed signage can result in a penalty of $200.

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