What a difference a week can make. There is really only one news story these days, and it’s Covid-19. This virus is disrupting daily life around the world and is having impacts in Nova Scotia. In just a week, university and schools have closed, the federal Parliament has been shuttered, the cruise ship season is being delayed, tons of events have been cancelled, visits to hospitals and seniors residents are being limited, professional sports are benched, people who have travelled internationally are required to self-isolate, and municipal programs have been significantly impacted. It’s a long list and one that is changing daily.
Nova Scotia has three presumptive cases of Covid-19 all stemming from international travel rather than community spread. The experts agree though that it’s only a matter of time before we see more cases. We all need to pull together on this now to protect those who are most at risk and to slow the virus’s spread so that we don’t overwhelm the healthcare system. As we’ve seen in Italy and in Wuhan, if the healthcare system gets swamped, more people die. We can’t stop the virus, but if we slow it down, we will save lives. We all have a role to play.
Here’s some dos and don’ts.
- DO wash your hands with soap and warm water frequently
- DO call 811 to get a referral if you meet the criteria
- DO NOT go to your Doctor or the Emergency Room if you think you may have COVID-19
- DO NOT call 811 unless you meet the criteria. 811 can’t help us if they’re overwhelmed. Review the criteria before you call.
- DO call the federal government’s special Covid-9 line 1-833-784-4397 if you have general questions about the virus.
- DO NOT go to work or send your kids to school or daycare for 14 days if you’ve returned from international travel.
- DO NOT horde toilet paper, groceries or other supplies. The empty store shelves are a society-induced event. There has been no disruption to supplies. Hording hurts the most vulnerable. Please think about what basic supplies you realistically need for 72 hours, not what you might need for the next several months.
All three orders of government have webpages setup to share information on the corona virus. Check them out below.
Since the municipal world is my domain, I will focus the rest of my covid-19 newsletter on the impacts to HRM’s operations. This is as of Sunday, March 15. Checkout HRM’s webpage for regular updates as they become available.
Transit is still running, but operations are being significantly affected. Ferry trips are being limited to 150, and buses will only carry as many people as there are seats for to help create social distance. Additionally, that first seat that’s directly behind the driver on some buses is closed to passengers to try and protect the health of our transit drivers. Transit won’t be able to run if all the drivers end up sick.
Capping passenger totals at the number of seats will be difficult on some routes during peak hours and transit has very limited ability to deploy additional buses (HRM doesn’t have lots of extra buses sitting around for situations like this). So, again, if you can work from home do so, and if you’re an employer, be flexible with employees. Transit has escalated cleaning of high-touch surfaces to every 24 hours and is in the process of switching cleaning solutions to a more long-lasting product.
Parks and Rec:
Starting on Tuesday, March 17, all HRM Parks and Rec Centres will close. This includes community centres that are owned by HRM, but that are operated by community associations such as the North Woodside Community Centre. The Sportsplex and Findlay will of course be closed. All March break programming has also been cancelled. HRM staff will be in touch with any residents who were booked into a program that was cancelled. Please wait to be contacted. HRM has never had to pull the plug on everything all at once before and Parks and Rec isn’t equipped to handle the volume if everyone calls looking for a refund on Monday morning.
All Public Library Branches are closing for three weeks starting on Monday, March 16. All public programming is cancelled. Private room rentals will be fully refunded. Loan periods for borrowed items are being extended as of March 14 to six weeks, and currently borrowed items have been given a three week extension. The Library has indicated that they will be generous in waiving fines for overdue items. If you need to self-isolate, keep in mind that the Library has an e-book collection that can help pass the time. For updates on the status of Library operations, checkout the Library’s page here.
HRM’s in-house operations are changing. All employees are being asked to work from home if their job allows. You can still reach municipal staff, but if you were hoping for an in-person meeting that is unlikely to happen anytime soon.
Covid-19 will have an impact on how I operate for the next little while as well. I’m in Orlando right now with my family on vacation. We flew out Sunday, March 8, which turned out to be just three days before covid-19’s distant rumble became a roar and daily life as we know it really started to change. Had we been flying today instead of last Sunday, we would have cancelled and wouldn’t be here at all.
My family and I return to Canada this week and I’m pleased to say that, so far, everyone is fine (as far as we know anyway). When we get back, we’ll be self-isolating for 14 days. I’ll be working, but I won’t be taking any in-person meetings. It’s phone calls and emails only until April and even after the 14 day window is up, I intend to reduce in-person meetings as much as possible. I encourage all employers to do the same. Now is the time to be flexible in how we do things and make the most of what technology allows.
Penhorn Lake Washroom:
Amazingly, there is some non-covid 19 news. Penhorn Lake is getting a new washroom this year. The tender was posted last week, which, when awarded, will allow construction on the new building to begin. The new building will be gender-neutral and accessible. It’s, unfortunately, likely that the new facility won’t be ready in time for the start of the swim season. HRM was hoping to have it finished before summer, but the timeline was extremely tight and the design and tendering schedules just haven’t left room to spare. To ensure that the 2020 swim season isn’t lost, HRM plans to have portable facilities on hand to maintain service. This is a short-term pain for long-term gain scenario. The new building will be worth it.
A couple of people have noted the terrible condition of the steps along Alderney Drive by the Dartmouth Common. They have evidently been in bad shape for a while, but this winter a sidewalk plow clipped the hand rail. They’re now truly down for the count. Staff are aware of the issue and the plan is to install a wooden set of steps over the broken concrete. HRM is putting in a temporary fix because the municipality wants to look at removing these stairs entirely. They make this section of sidewalk inaccessible to anyone with reduced mobility. Staff feel it should be possible to change the sidewalk configuration and eliminate the need for stairs, but that will require more work. The temporary wooden steps will buy HRM time to figure out a permanent solution.
Public Hearing, Portland Street Development
Thursday, April 3, 6:00 pm
Harbour East Community Council Chamber, 60 Alderney Drive (across the library entrance)
A public hearing to consider a proposed development on Portland Street near Maynard Lake will then take place on April 3. The proposal is for three buildings, two six storey buildings on Portland Street, and a third four storey building on a vacant lot behind the proposed development (between Portland and Rodney Road).
You can read the planning department’s report, which recommends Harbour East accept the proposal, online here. If you wish to provide feedback, you can email Harbour East via email@example.com or by attending the public hearing. At the public hearing, staff will present their report, the developer will have 10 minutes to present his project, and then members of the public will have the opportunity to address Council (5 minutes per person). At the end of the evening, Council will make a decision.
Given the evolving situation with Covid-19, please check ahead to make sure the meeting hasn’t been cancelled (it hasn’t yet). I should be out of my 14 days isolation by April 3 and will attend if the hearing goes ahead.
Centre Plan Package B:
The second half of the Centre Plan, Package B, has been released for public review (visit centreplan.ca). The Centre Plan is HRM’s new plan to guide development in the urban core (Peninsula Halifax and Dartmouth inside the Circ). The portion that applies to growth areas has already been adopted (Package A). Next up, new zoning for the established residential areas, and institutional and employment centres (Package B). The Centre Plan team has been out consulting with the public about Package B. Dates for formal meetings are available below.
- General public meeting, 6:00 – 8:00 pm, March 23, Alderney Theatre
- Established residential areas (Dartmoth), 6:00 – 8:00 pm March 30, Mic Mac Aquatic Club
- Industrial, Waterfront, and Noise Bylaw, 6:00 – 8:00 pm, April 6, NSCC Waterfront Campus
In light of Covid-19, these meetings could end up being cancelled. They haven’t yet, but it’s definitely a possibility so please check centreplan.ca before heading out. You can always provide feedback on Package B online.
If all goes according to plan, Package B will come before Council for adoption in September.
No update since my last e-newsletter. Council did meet on March 10 but it was a light meeting and I was away. I will say I was very disappointed to see Council turn down the proposed heritage streetscapes on Queen, Birmingham, and Grafton Streets in Downtown Halifax. The stats are clear, protected buildings survive whereas unprotected buildings eventually turn into rubble. I’m one of Council’s representatives on the Heritage Advisory Committee and was there for the scoring of the proposed streetscapes. It’s disheartening that Council didn’t support heritage protection, and double so given that the four absences (myself, Blackburn, Karstin, and Stretch) likely cancelled each other out. I suspect the outcome would have been the same even if the room had been at full strength.
Given the Covid-19 reality and how much is being cancelled every day, filling out an events section seems futile this month. Probably a good chunk of whatever I list will end up cancelled. I’ll simply reiterate Public Health’s advice to avoid gatherings of more than 150.