Column: A roadmap for running a city in a pandemic

Council Report by Salmon Arm Mayor Alan Harrison

How do you run a City during a pandemic?

Six months ago, very few had thought about this. Then we were thrust into it.

I remember those early days in March. None of us knew where things were headed. Would this be over in April? Things seemed to change day to day.

We recognized that difficult decisions were going to have to be made.

We needed a framework in which to base our decisions. Council settled on two basic guiding principles:

1. The health and safety of the city’ s residents and employees.

2. The consistent delivery of essential services.

Each decision we made was measured against these two principles. A third process we followed was to communicate to residents transparently and often.

A specific example of the use of this framework was whether to close children’s playgrounds such as Fletcher and Blackburn. When using the framework, the decision became objective and clear. We needed to look after the health and safety of residents, and playgrounds are not an essential service. We closed the playgrounds.

As time progressed, the definition of health and safety broadened. Foremost is physical health. However, we also needed to consider both the mental and financial health of residents.

We were faced with decisions like do we close our trails? We knew that if the pandemic continued, people would need mental-health breaks that the outdoors can provide. Using our framework, with a broadened definition of health, we decided to keep our trail system open, emphasizing the need for users to physically distance.

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Likewise, financial pressures can affect health. We wanted to do what we could as local government to ease this pressure. Using our framework, we decided to set a goal of a zero per-cent municipal tax increase for 2020. We further decided to “park” important but non-essential works, until we were assured revenues would allow them to be completed.

Essential city service sites like our pollution control centre and our water treatment plant, immediately established protocols around sanitation and distancing. We established two separate cohorts of operators, and with the co-operation of CUPE, had them work distinctly independent shifts. This ensured that if an employee contracted the virus, half of the operators would still be available, and these essential functions would continue.

Through these times we have also had to understand what it is we have control over, and what falls into the jurisdiction of other levels of government.

Under the umbrella of Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer, local governments have followed both the guidelines provided, and the ministerial orders provincial ministries have passed.

Most important through all of this, the residents of Salmon Arm have really done their part. However, we are not through this yet. We are in this together. We need to continue to wash our hands often, maintain physical distancing, keep our bubbles small and isolate at the first sign of illness.

How do you operate a city during a pandemic?

I have learned we do it together.

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