The province is allowing a variety of business and facilities to reopen as part of its B.C. Restart plan – but New Westminster isn’t in a rush to be first.
The City of New Westminster has created a new staff committee – the new normal staff committee – which will implement the provincial plan. The city’s recovery plan for the COVID-19 pandemic is a work in progress, said Lisa Spitale, the city’s chief administrative officer.
“City staff are working to understand what the province’s restart plan means for local government and how to proceed, with the health and safety of our community and city staff as our Number 1 priority,” Spitale said. “We must do our due diligence and ensure that reopening city facilities and services is carefully considered and not rushed. The city must also consider its various levels of responsibility as regulator, as employer and as service provider.”
As Phase 2 gets underway, some businesses and services are poised to reopen in the coming weeks. But before that happens, some sectors will have to meet provincial guidelines for safe practices before they’re allowed to reopen and others may require a lifting or modification of existing orders from the provincial health officer.
“Phase 2 is allowing the lifting of some restrictions,” Spitale said. “But again, we want to caution that it is within strict guidelines as deemed by the provincial government and health orders, especially focusing on physical-distancing barriers so that we continue our good work on flattening the curve.”
In Phase 2, services that may start to reopen, with enhanced protocols, include: the retail sector; hair salons, barbers and personal-service establishments; museums and libraries; recreation; child care; parks, beaches and outdoor spaces; and restaurants, cafes and pubs. The premier unveiled the plan on May 6, with implementation set to begin after the Victoria Day long weekend.
“I won’t state for everyone in the organization, but myself, I didn’t expect it to be as aggressive as it was. So that has caught us off-guard,” Spitale told council May 11. “But at the same time, we recognize that we have to be nimble and move forward. The restart and the city’s recovery do have unique workload implications that, in some cases, may prioritize other workload implications, simply by virtue of what the province expects of us.”
On the financial front, Spitale said staff have been working on a cash-flow analysis and have been focusing on a “moderate” cash- scenario related to financial impacts on the city from COVID-19. This model assumes the city will have a 30% overall reduction of cash flows, physical distancing and closures ending at the end of September and a gradual reopening of city facilities, services and programs between October and December 2020.
“That looked at potential lost revenue of about $11.25 million for the remainder of the year that would be lost to the city, and an additional $35 million in deferred revenues, which are all critical components as we look to the planning to reopen our city facilities, services and programs,” she said. “Essentially, one of the things that we all need to articulate is: What can we afford within our new financial reality?”
According to a staff report, the city is looking to prioritize reopening facilities and spaces that increase opportunities to enjoy self-directed, outdoor activity and to access to spaces and services – but do not require additional costs.
When it comes to the reopening of city facilities, services and programs, Spitale said a number of things will be considered: the health and safely of the public and employees; the city’s financial recovery and the recovery of the broader New Westminster economy; and community need, with a focus on services that are most needed by the community in the months ahead, including vulnerable and at risk populations.
Mayor Jonathan Cote said he doesn’t want New Westminster to be cutting corners so it can be one of the first communities to open up certain facilities compared to other communities.
“It’s not a race,” he said. “I am more interested in us doing it right, and we are thinking through all of the issues as we work through this. I think first and foremost the health issue and how we are protecting our employees, but also how we are protecting the residents who are using our services; that has to be done right.”
In addition to figuring out how to operate city facilities in “the new normal,” Cote said the city must consider the financial implications of its decisions and determine how it will continue to respond to the pandemic.
“A lot of staff have been reallocated to different and new work to help us serve and protect the community from the pandemic,” he noted. “Although some of that will start to kind of revert and go back as the need might not be, knock-on-wood, needed a much into the future, I think we do recognize there are a lot of areas where that work is still going to be necessary.”
Coun. Mary Trentadue would like council to discuss its priorities for reopening services in the city.
“I also believe that this situation in some form is going to carry on for a good long while. We will be having to consider these types of protocols, I believe, for at least another year, if not longer,” she said. “I want to know that we are considering that and we are not just thinking about reopening in May and then July. We are going to have to deal with this for quite a long time and we probably need to put those kinds of measures into place now so that we can reopen and make sure that people are safe.”
Phase 2 of Restart B.C. getting underway
British Columbian is moving into Phase 2 of the Restart B.C. plan.
The plan proposes a gradual lifting of COVID-19 restrictions to allow for more social and economic activity, while closely monitoring health information to minimize the risk to the public.
Because not all sectors were closed by public health orders, B.C. started off in Phase 1.
Phase 2, which will starts to underway in this week, will allow: small social gatherings; a resumption of elective surgeries; regulated health services like physiotherapy, dentistry, chiropractors and in-person counselling; and day-use in provincial parks. Other services that could start reopening include: more non-essential businesses, including office-based worksites; hair salons, barbers and other personal service establishments; restaurants, cafes and pubs (with sufficient distancing measures); and museums, art galleries and libraries.
For the Restart Plan to be successful, the provincial government states it will be “crucial” for British Columbians to maintain a strong emphasis on personal hygiene, including hand washing, physical distancing and staying at home if they are sick and to do this during every phase of the plan.
If transmission rates remain low or decline, Phase 3, would start between June and September. This phase includes the opening of additional businesses and services, such as movie theatres, film production, and post-secondary and K to 12 education.
Phase 4, which includes large gatherings such as concerts, conventions, and professional sports with a live audience, and international tourism) will only be achieved when the threat of COVID-19 has been significantly diminished through widespread vaccination, broad successful treatments and evidence of community immunity, or the equivalent.