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COVID-19 posing ‘dramatic impact’ on Town operations and community

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

The Town of Hinton (TOH) implemented a low-level one Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) late on Friday, March 13 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Town’s immediate steps were made to help reduce the risk to residents, visitors and employees.

The EOC allows for higher level resource coordination, support, and planning, and establishes a space in which both strategic and tactical actions and planning occur, explained Joshua Yaworski, TOH communications coordinator.

The EOC includes a director of emergency management, public information officer, liaison officer, risk management officer, and finance section chief.

Fire Chief Todd Martens has been working to ensure that the municipality is ready to act in an EOC, as it is very regimented, Yaworski added.

The implementation of an emergency operations centre is a part of the Incident Command System model of Emergency Response.

“The objective of an EOC is health and safety of our responders, prevent loss of life, protection of environment, protection of property, and reduce economic and social losses,” Yaworski stated.

During the regular council meeting on March 17, council directed administration to implement cost mitigation strategies within the 2020 operating budget to offset the ongoing financial impacts of COVID-19.

Administration will provide Council with ongoing regular reports related to these mitigation strategies.

Coun. Albert Ostashek stated that this is the best measure to deal with financial impacts of COVID-19 to avoid taxing local citizens and businesses.

“Many businesses in our community are being told they have to close their doors and other businesses are voluntarily closing their doors. Unfortunately those closures lead to employee layoffs and other difficult decisions that those businesses have to make and those individuals at those businesses also have difficult decisions to make,” he said during the meeting.

Town CAO Emily Olsen thanked EOC staff for their hard work, managing all the changes, and maintaining operations.

She added that it’s important to grasp how staff manage the situation now, and for the next few weeks to come.

“COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on our organization, activating our EOC on Friday put us ahead in making decisions that we need to,” Olsen said.

Command staff and activated section chiefs of the EOC came to the decision on March 16 to close the Government Centre to the public.

Due to limited staff and an inability to enforce social distancing practices in some town facilities, the town closed its doors to most buildings.

Other closed buildings include the infrastructure services building, emergency services building, and the RCMP office.

The recreation centre is also closed including the Hinton Municipal Library, Parent Link, Youth Centre, and Hinton’s Children’s Learning Centre.

As well as the Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) department with the exceptions of the Freedom Express Services, Home Support Services, and Public Transit.

Mayor Marcel Michaels stated they are continuing those services as they are critical services to the community.

Home services that are continuing for seniors are light house keeping for those lacking a support system and door to door services.

Along with the closure of the schools, Hinton Kids for Success is now also closed.

The Town created a web resource with a directory of babysitters and other supports for parents, as well as resources to assist in at home activities during potential social isolation.

Yaworski added the TOH Volunteer Centre page can share and assist in coordinating residents who are looking to help anyone that needs assistance during this time.

The Evergreens Foundation is also taking extra measures to keep residents safe. As of March 16, they closed their doors to all non-essential visits until further notice.

“We are feeling well prepared for this pandemic and are stepping up all cleaning and sanitizing as required. We have enough stock of all supplies at this moment and do not foresee any issues in this regard,” stated Kristen Chambers, CAO of the foundation.

Residents are still able to leave the premises but staff is encouraging them not to visit any public establishments or meet with any family or friends that have travelled within the last 14 days.

Their greatest concern outside the physical health of residents is the mental health challenges surrounding isolation in seniors.

“We are doing all that we can to find ways to use technology for residents to speak with or see their family members and are trying to keep our internal activities focused on mental health and wellbeing of the residents,” Chambers said.

Staff will work with and support family members as they make decisions during this time.

Meals in disposable containers have been provided for residents choosing to self-isolate and housekeeping has been modified as well.