The city is working to maintain essential services and reduce impacts on staff under the Omicron variant

He said the city’s workforce has already experienced personnel impacts in recent weeks due to isolation requirements and the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

“We certainly have. We have had instances where essential service workers were eventually placed in a quarantine scenario, through our own internal process which was mitigated by bringing in overtime staff,” he said.

While city departments have seen some impacts on staffing, Brown said to date there have been no transmissions in the workplace. Brown credited internal city contact tracing as an important factor.

“We have supported Alberta Health Services even in previous waves by doing our own contract research so they can focus on the public and we just continued as we thought it was a such a valuable resource, so that’s the great asset that we use and also simple things like enforcing, not just encouraging to stay home when you’re sick,” he said.

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In order to ensure that service levels in the city are maintained during the fifth wave, Brown said the city, much like previous waves, will resort to redeploying staff who are trained in other more essential services of the city. Adjustments to service levels may also occur depending on the situation.

Brown said the city is also working to develop a rapid testing program.

“Specifically with essential services staff, so we can have a bit of a balanced approach, so if it becomes incredibly transmissible, especially with our essential services staff, and we are potentially facing a disruption in service, we have another tool in our toolbox to be able to bring them back but still have the ability to check if they are infected with COVID-19,” he said.

On January 3, new isolation requirements came into effect, reducing the isolation requirement from 10 days to five for fully vaccinated Albertans as long as symptoms resolved. The new requirements also allow essential workers to return to work before five days in exceptional circumstances where a service interruption of 24 hours or more becomes detrimental to the public.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, Brown said the city is also focusing on public facilities. He said facilities such as the Esplanade and Co-op Square could see service level disruptions due to Omicron and isolation requirements.

“At the end of the day, we need staff to be able to do that and if we don’t have staff, it’s very difficult to have programming and to operate these facilities as they should”

Currently, capacity restrictions are in place at public facilities. Co-op Place is limited to 50% capacity during major events, and no food or drink is served. Brian Mastel, general manager of utilities, said this is in line with the province’s restrictions.

“To have food and drink, there must be less than 500 people,” Mastel explained, noting that if the restrictions waiver program was not in place, food and drink would not be available in no facilities.

“We could reduce the capacity to 499, but then it would be difficult for the events we organize there. We have therefore preserved the volumes of spectators but have given up the restoration. But it gets complicated because we see some events canceled,” he said.

When asked when public facilities will have to close, Brown said the city is following provincial guidelines.

“We have always followed provincial requirements for all facilities intended for the public and so I do not plan to take more action or impose more restrictions based on public facilities, we have always followed the expert advice of the services Alberta Health with regard to the protection of the public.

Last year, the previous council came under scrutiny for not acting quickly enough when it came to imposing its own regulations on masks and other protective measures. Newly elected Mayor Linnsie Clark reiterated that restrictions to protect public health are already in place.

“I think at this point we are following the provincial mandate, which includes a mask mandate. I think we need to continue to communicate and monitor the situation. Right now the provincial mandate takes precedence and of course internally, as you have heard, we are ensuring that our critical and necessary services are protected,” Clark said.

Currently, Medicine Hat has 321 active cases.

Michelle J. Kelley