Westminster Pier Park is the latest hot spot to develop as part of the city’s enforcement of COVID-19 regulations.
The City of New Westminster recently launched a COVID-19 Compliance Hotline that people can contact to report complaints about compliance with public health orders related to physical distancing. Since it launched on March 27, the types of issues reported to the hotline has changed.
“Over this weekend, the biggest hot spot developing is now gatherings in Westminster Pier park in the evening, by people with open alcohol who are having a little bit of an outdoor party,” said Jackie Teed, the city’s manager of planning. “As I understand from my communications with the police department and the parks department, this is not a new issue. This is an issue that we had last summer.”
Teed said the city is now determining how to address those gatherings in the context of social distancing.
“I have been hearing a lot more about young people gathering,” said Coun. Chinu Das. “I can see that as the summer approaches, this is going to escalate.”
Mayor Jonathan Cote said parks play a valuable role in providing spaces where people can get fresh air, but that needs to done in a way that respect orders related to social distancing.
“I thought it was really interesting in Dr. Bonnie Henry’s presentation showing how people were basically staying away from stores, staying away from work and all these areas, but parks was the one area where people were actually going in greater numbers,” he said. “I have certainly noticed that myself.”
Complaints being reported to the city’s compliance hotline have evolved several times since it was launched a couple of weeks ago.
Teed said the “hot spots” have changed a bit over time, with initial calls to the compliance hotline being related to businesses, including questions about whether certain businesses were allowed to be open and concerns about physical distancing inside shops or in lineups to get into those businesses. After that, the city started receiving calls about social distancing concerns at local skate parks and off-leash dog parks.
“The parks department determined, with council’s direction, to close a number of those facilities,” Teed told council April 20. “Since then, we have reopened some dog parks because what we found then was the next hotspot that came up was in fact off-leash dog issues started happening across the city, and people were quite concerned with dogs running up to them.”
Since dog parks in Queen’s, Moody, Hume and Ryall parks have reopened on a trial basis, the city has seen a decrease in issues related to off-leash dogs.
“The next hot spot was the esplanade,” Teed said. “Certainly with council’s direction, the education and enforcement working group, with parks, worked to create a one-way system for movement on the esplanade to minimize the pinch points where people were having trouble with physical distancing. Generally, we have gotten really good compliance with that. In some cases we still are not, so we continue to work on refining that, recognizing that we will probably need to continue with social distancing for some time.”
Anyone wanting to report concerns about compliance to COVID-19 issues can call 604-636-4343 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. All messages are being passed on to the appropriate departments or government agency.
Current closures include public playgrounds, personal service establishments such as salons and spas, fitness facilities and businesses with liquor primary licenses (such as pubs and nightclubs). While some non-essential businesses have chosen to close, they’re still permitted to remain open as long as they don’t allow gatherings of 50 people or more and people are engaged in physical distancing of at least two metres.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the city has created a number of working groups, including one that focuses on education and enforcement issues.
“It’s a bit of an evolving issue,” Cote said at the April 20 council meeting. “I am sure we will continue to talk about it around this table as things evolve.”