More Saskatoon city staff infected with COVID-19 in 2022 than during entire pandemic: report
City of Saskatoon administration is outlining how the city is preparing for potential staffing issues due to the Omicron COVID-19 variant in a report headed to the Governance and Priorities Committee on Monday.
According to the report, 202 city employees have tested positive for COVID-19 and were required to self-isolate since Jan. 1. That marks 64 per cent of all positive cases reported among city staff since the start of the pandemic and less than five per cent of the city’s total workforce.
“It’s not really surprising in the sense that I know way more people that have COVID now than I had at any other point during the pandemic. I mean, it has spread to such a broader population of our community and obviously, that is the case when it comes to the City of Saskatoon staff as well,” Mayor Charlie Clark told CTV News in an interview.
The report said there have been no service disruptions as a result, adding that any service disruptions would be communicated to residents on the city’s website and social media.
To ensure this remains the case, many departments are taking steps to combat the spread of Omicron and prepare in case staffing levels are impacted.
Saskatoon Water has restricted all non-essential meetings and brought in more physical distancing measures.
The city’s road crews are holding daily planning meetings virtually rather than in-person, with employees receiving work assignments from their supervisor via text.
Meanwhile, Saskatoon Transit has a plan to adjust same-day booking for Access Transit when staffing is below a certain level. It is also working on an emergency sign-up for operators, similar to what was in place during the early stages of the pandemic.
The Saskatoon Fire Department is also closely monitoring staffing levels, including using overtime to ensure enough staff are available.
“I want to thank all of our staff and our departments for ensuring adaptability and ensuring that we can keep the water running, keep collecting garbage, keep clearing now, keep having our fire and police services out there,” Clark said.
“Based on the arrangements that have been created and the ability we have had to adapt, (city administration) are not expecting city services to be disrupted, and so, we’re still going to do everything we can to ensure that’s the case.”
RECOMMENDATION TO SCRAP COVID FRAMEWORK
Administration is also recommending the city suspend its framework for reducing the local spread of COVID-19 as it was developed during the rise of the Delta variant and at a time when the province had no restrictions or measures in place to help curb the spread of the virus.
“All of the changes that have happened since then, kind of render the framework, I wouldn’t say useless, but not as effective and meaning it’s not the best tool for us to use anymore,” said Ward 1 Coun. Darren Hill.
Instead, the administration is advising the city to follow all provincial public health orders and consult with the Saskatchewan Health Authority local medical health officers on COVID-19 transmission and mitigation efforts.
“We said early on in the pandemic that we don’t have medical health experts within our administration, we don’t have any COVID experts within our administration, and that we would follow the lead and guidance of the Ministry of Health. That’s what we did in those first 18 months and that’s what the recommendation is to revert back to, and I think that that’s the best course of action moving forward,” Hill said.
Ward 7 Coun. Mairin Loewen said she has mixed feelings about scrapping the framework.
“I think the thing that has been really helpful about the framework is having a rubric to help us guide decisions that affect the public and also give the public a sense of what might be happening and try to predict how their lives might be affected by some of the changes in the community,” she said.
“The difficulty is that when the framework was created, it made certain assumptions that are no longer true, particularly around things like whether or not people would have access to PCR testing and so, the data that the framework is built on is no longer reliable.
Loewen said she doesn’t know how she’ll vote yet, but would like to see the city continue to share the data it has with the community, including test positivity for Saskatoon.
The committee will consider the recommendation at its meeting on Monday. If approved, it would go before council on Jan. 31.
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