Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes is urging residents to take precautions amid concerns about COVID-19 spreading but emphasizes that panic is unnecessary.
World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic on Wednesday and since then many large events have been cancelled and the province has advised against travelling outside of Canada.
By Thursday, the province had confirmed that seven more cases of COVID-19 in B.C., bringing the total to 53 cases and one death.
Council is “highly aware of the situation on COVID-19 and sees our responsibility to staff and residents,” Haynes said. He emphasized that cases of coronavirus on the Island are a concern but the risk remains low and there is no need for panic.
Haynes added that while he’s pleased with the current protocols, the District is keeping an eye on the situation and will continue to update residents.
According to a March 12 statement from the District, no municipal meetings, events or programs have been cancelled and no facilities have been closed. The municipality is reviewing it’s cleaning protocols and planning to sanitize high-contact surfaces in all municipal facilities more frequently. Staff will communicate any changes to residents.
On March 6, the District increased the Emergency Operations Centre – which acts as a communications hub –to a level two and has staffed it with existing municipal staff. This means front line workers have been drawn away from their regular duties, Haynes said. He’s asking residents to be patient with response times as the highest priority is health and wellness.
Aside from staff being moved to other operations, Saanich business is “unaltered” and no staff are working from home, Haynes noted.
As far as council meetings go, Haynes doesn’t see cancellations in the near future.
Meetings will continue for the time being and webcasts will be available as always, he said. Residents can opt to watch from home but are still welcome to attend the meetings in person as there is currently no rule prohibiting meeting attendance.
Haynes added that typically, more than 1,000 people watch council meetings online and with the opportunity to correspond with councillors at any time, residents can remain fully involved in local government no matter what.
Councillors, like residents, are being asked to avoid shaking hands, use hand sanitizer, practice cough etiquette and stay home when they feel ill. Chairs in the council chambers have also been spread out so they aren’t to close too one another, Haynes said.
Haynes is advising residents to keep an eye on the District of Saanich website for “to-the-minute information” and guidance.