Abbotsford’s residents should prepare for a “tsunami” to wash over the region as COVID-19 spreads across North America, Mayor Henry Braun says.
The spread of the novel coronavirus will upend life across the city, and requires residents to look out for one another, Braun said. And he said some people need to start taking the situation much more seriously.
“We’re just at the beginning of this exponential curve that’s about to land on us in the next week or two,” Braun said. “I am very concerned about the safety of our residents and the community at large.”
Braun has been following the spread of COVID-19 for months, in part because a family member with a health issue was in Europe.
“I’ve had a few sleepless nights,” he said. “This is serious. My concern is we have too many people across this country who are not taking this seriously and the time for drastic action, I think is now.”
Braun suggested that even allowing gatherings of 50 people – the current limit – may be too lenient. Ten may be more appropriate, he suggested. The open Sumas border crossing is also of concern, he said, given the “out of hand” situation in Washington.
British Columbia, Braun said, has done a “fantastic job” in its response. But for the virus to be contained, Braun said residents and employers need to listen to the words of Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix.
“We need to listen to what they have to say. They’re not being alarmist. They’re telling us the truth,” he said. “Wash your hands like you’ve never washed before, because soap and water does more than hand sanitizers.”
Still he doesn’t expect that to spare B.C. from having to confront the danger of COVID-19.
In his five-plus years as mayor, Braun and his council have spoken repeatedly about the need to take a process-oriented approach and spend time to collect information before making a decsion.
That’s just not possible when it comes to COVID-19, with World Health Organization officials speaking of the importance of acting quickly and decisively.
“We’re going to make the odd mistake, but it’s better to make a decision and move than to sit there and try to get perfect information,” Braun said Tuesday.
Discussions are taking place at city hall about a series of issues. Some staff may be able to work from home, but there are technological challenges to resolve. The city must find a way to provide essential services, while dealing with increased staff absences. And council is considering how it might meet remotely.
“It’s all hands on deck and together as a community … we have to break the chain of transmission.”
Braun encouraged restaurants and businessowners to consider closing before they are forced to do so.
“I think businesses need to start thinking about that … because if some of us are self isolation, isolating, and others aren’t, the spread will continue.”
But he also noted that many businesses may not think they can afford to do so.
Federal and provincial politicians are discussing how to respond to the economic shockwaves caused by the spread of COVID-19.
Braun said that while he sympathizes with business owners, “I think we have to look after the employees first.”
“I don’t want to see aid packages going to businesses first and leaving people vulnerable … I’ve been told many times there are 4,000 people who are one paycheque away from being homeless in this city. They can’t afford to be off work for one day, nevermind two weeks.”
The closures, though are necessary, he said, to prevent a situation like that in Italy, where doctors must decide who gets a ventilator and who doesn’t.
“There is no health system in any country in this world that can handle this if this if this spikes up, which is why we want to flatten out this curve, spread it out over time,” he said. “Otherwise we’re going to burn our doctors and nurses out because they can’t handle what’s about to come.”
In addition to the physical hazards posed by COVID-19, recent weeks – and the months to come – will take a toll on many residents mental health.
Braun says that he has turned to his faith for strength. But in general, he suggested residents get outside if they can.
“You have to take a deep breath, go for a walk,” he said. “Go to Mill Lake, walk around, look at the beauty that surrounds us. Sing a song – whatever makes you lift your spirit. For some people that will be praying…”
“For people who have kids, take them out on Sumas Mountain on the trails. You’re not going to get this walking on those trails, touching a tree.”
Braun also stressed that residents should check up on neighbours, particularly the elderly, as well as friends and family who may also have mental health challenges.
“We are just at the beginning edge of a whole lot of things that our world is about to change in a way that we haven’t seen in 100 years,” Braun said. “We as a community have to look out for one another. I gain my strength from my neighbour’s strength. And I think that’s something we’re going to do a lot of in the next little while.”
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