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St. Albert plans to redeploy employees should COVID cases rise

Redeployment would be a final effort to try and maintain essential services.
St. Albert Place 2
FILE PHOTO/St. Albert Gazette

Seventy-two St. Albert employees tested positive for COVID-19 from Dec. 22 to Jan. 10, council’s emergency management advisory committee heard Tuesday morning. 

Of these positive cases, only 20 are currently active, with 16 of those externally facing, meaning in departments such as emergency services, recreation, and public works. 

Percy Janke, director of emergency management, said Alberta’s chief medical officer has advised municipalities to be prepared for 30 per cent of the workforce to be away with COVID-19 at some point during the next month or so. 

The city is accordingly planning to redeploy employees to maintain critical services by suspending or slowing other services, Ryan Stovall, director of human resources and safety, said. 

“I want to acknowledge this would be a fairly significant impact because we believe the disruption could be for a short period and not all employees have all the skills that they would need to be redeployed,” Stovall said, noting this would be a last effort to try and maintain services. 

Janke said the province has provided guidance to municipalities on what critical services include, though he noted this may vary by community. Typically, these services include but are not limited to police, fire, public works such as water and garbage disposal, utilities, public transportation, and various social supports. 

In terms of staffing for fire services, Everett Cooke, director of emergency services, said his team is in a “very fortunate position” due to the future opening of Fire Station #4, which has allowed fire services to keep additional staff. 

“We have not experienced the significant impact our neighbours from Edmonton have,” Cooke said. 

Ryan Comaniuk, St. Albert RCMP commander, said staff levels at the St. Albert detachment have been “good” so far. 

“We’ve had a few isolated cases, but it’s more on the municipal employee side,” Comaniuk said. “That being said, we may be impacted here in the coming days.” 

As of Jan. 9, provincial data has recorded 1,142 active cases in St. Albert, up from the previous high from a former wave, which was 391 active cases. 

Janke noted the reliability of provincial data has changed, with PCR tests being the only data included in the case counts. PCR tests are currently only available to those who live or work in high-risk settings, and people with risk factors for severe outcomes. 

“In some jurisdictions, actual case counts are estimated to be four to six times higher than what is actually reported,” Janke said. 

Notably, while active case counts have increased, hospitalization and ICU rates in Alberta have not increased to the same proportion, Janke said, adding that hospitalization and ICU numbers have been identified as “lead indicators of what’s occurring with COVID-19.”

Council requested specific data on hospitalization for the St. Albert area be provided by Dr. Chris Sikora, lead medical officer of health for the Edmonton Zone, when this data becomes available. 

“Those hospitalizations numbers are key,” Mayor Cathy Heron said. “It’s an indicator of what’s coming.”