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'Clean hands, clear heads, open hearts': City offering advice on COVID-19 outbreak

Last Updated Mar 12, 2020 at 1:38 pm MDT

A lab worker at the Provincial Laboratory for Public Health in Calgary works on a tool for early detection of diseases such as COVID-19. Officials hope this work can also help prevent further transmission and rapidly quarantine individuals. March 6, 2020. (PHOTO: Nick Blakeney, CityNews)

CALGARY (660 NEWS) — The City of Calgary is taking an aggressive approach to the COVID-19 outbreak, starting with steps to protect public employees.

Councillors heard an update on the situation during a meeting of the Emergency Management Committee on Wednesday in the Council Chambers.

Calgary Emergency Management Agency Chief Tom Sampson provided details, including on how they have a goal of “flattening the curve” on infections so that hospitals and health agencies do not get overloaded with cases in these early days of the pandemic.

Due to the fact it is a dynamic and quickly evolving situation, Sampson told Council that the number one priority is to protect the safety and wellbeing of Calgarians and City staff.

There is also a commitment to maintaining public services so that citizens are not as directly affected by any disruptions.

Meetings are going to be happening, including with the University of Calgary, Tourism Calgary and the Calgary Stampede to ensure continuity around protecting people.

But as the situation continues to evolve, Sampson added he is “darn impressed” by the messaging from Alberta Health — particularly Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw — by getting proper advice out to Albertans around hygiene and social distancing.


Calgary Emergency Management Agency Chief Tom Sampson tells reporters about the city’s approach to the coronavirus outbreak.

Also, the fact remains that the outbreak will continue to spread in the immediate timeframe in Alberta, and all that can be done for now is to slow that spread.

On that angle, the city will be looking more at allowing employees to work from home and reducing tours of public facilities.

Nevertheless, even if the city takes every step possible it ultimately falls on Calgarians to be proactive and help themselves.

“We can give you a clean bus in the morning and a clean City Hall to come into, but invariably people will use these public spaces and so it’s up to us to work hard to protect our own health,” said Sampson, as he advised transit users to carry around hand sanitizer and use it after getting off a bus or train.


This sign, posted on the doors of the Council Chambers at Calgary City Hall, advises people to stay away if they are showing symptoms of coronavirus.

“We’re thinking of everything we can to make Calgary stronger,” added Sampson. “We protect the health and welfare of our employees who, in turn, turn around and service Calgarians with the essential services that we provide.”

While the city did cancel the Safety Expo, which would have brought in many children and first responders into City Hall this week, there have not been any decisions yet on other major events.

“We’re not there yet,” said Sampson. “We are working on an education basis first. So, allowing people to think about their event and whether or not that event makes sense in light of the Public Health Agency of Canada guidelines.”

A team is being put together to examine the viability of city hosted events, and more discussions will be held with groups like the Calgary Stampede to determine next steps.

“The city currently doesn’t have the power to stop events out in the community, but we’re trying to set an example,” said Mayor Naheed Nenshi.


Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says Calgarians should remain calm and take proactive measures to protect themselves during the outbreak.

Nenshi said he should have been in Houston, Texas for an energy conference but that was called off, and during the meeting Councillor Diane Colley-Urquhart said she cancelled a tour of Portugal, Spain and Italy in light of these events.

Further, a major meeting around the city’s mental health and addiction strategy for next was also called off and postponed to another date. Therefore, Nenshi cautioned that people should not be surprised if certain events or projects are delayed out of precaution.

As fear also spreads about the virus, Nenshi said one of the most important things that can be done is to stay calm.

“Clean hands, clear heads and open hearts,” the mayor said, repeating his philosophy for the situation. “This is going to get worse. There will be many, many, many more cases in Calgary and in Alberta. Our goal here is to use good public health measures — like clean hands, like staying home when you’re sick — to flatten the curve.”

Clean hands are self-explanatory, but the clear heads portion of the phrase may need to get a bit more attention.

“There is no need to panic,” he said. “There is certainly no need to stock up on toilet paper. This is a respiratory illness, not an intestinal illness.”

On the last piece, open hearts, Nenshi said Calgarians should not be doing away with the city’s famous community spirit and this actually presents an opportunity to band together and help each other out, such as setting up a plan to fetch supplies if your neighbour needs to go into isolation.

“We need to look in on our neighbours, if you have someone who is in self-isolation, drop some soup on the porch. Don’t go in, but drop some soup on the porch and remind people that even if they’re feeling isolated that they live in a community that cares about them and cares about their health.”

Sampson noted that some measures may seem a little excessive, but in a situation like this, he feels they cannot be too careful.

“What we don’t want to do is gave a great, big after-action report saying, boy, I wish we’d learned about these things or I wish we’d done these things,” he said. “We’re trying to be aggressive at the front end.”