Sidney Coun. Peter Wainwright hosted an informal, virtual town hall Sunday that also included Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith and Randy Humble, Sidney’s chief administrative officer, who currently serves as director of Sidney’s emergency operations centre (EOC).

Sidney’s top emergency official reiterates need for physical distancing during virtual chat

The public Sunday also heard of future plans to help local businesses through tax deferments

Sidney’s top emergency official told the public Sunday afternoon that he is not aware of any cases of COVID-19 in the community, based on current reporting procedures.

“We [at the EOC] are not aware of any [known cases] in Sidney,” said Randy Humble, Sidney’s chief administrative officer, who currently serves as director of Sidney’s emergency operations centre (EOC). Humble made that comment during Sunday’s virtual town hall organized by Coun. Peter Wainwright.“I think the province has made it clear, certainly the updates that are being provided by the provincial health office, it’s all based on regional health areas in terms of the updates in B.C.”

As of March 28, Island Health recorded 60 out of 884 total cases. “The only areas where they are really indicating [the specific location] is when you have a COVID case within an actual care facility,” said Humble. “We are in constant daily contact at the EOC with our seven care facilities within the municipality, and again no indication has been given with respect to a case in a local facility, which is excellent, very promising.” Humble made that comment towards the end of the hour-long virtual town hall.

Humble said in a follow-up that the province does not provide information about confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the community, pointing to current reporting procedures described above.

“Is there a possibility that there are some individuals within the community that may have the COVID-19 virus? – yes, there is,” he said. “However, it would not be appropriate or responsible for the Town or its EOC to speculate regarding the number of potential cases.”

What matters the most is that everyone within Sidney remains “diligent” in following the health orders and physical distancing recommendations from the provincial health officer, said Humble.

“This means practicing the required two-metre physical distancing, not participating in any social gatherings and staying home as much as possible,” he said. “As consistently reiterated by Dr. Bonnie Henry, this is the only way to slow down the transmission of COVID-19 and flatten the curve.”

Sunday’s forum also heard from Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith, who said during his opening remarks that the term “unprecedented” has taken on new meaning during the current COVID-19 crisis.

RELATED: Sidney mayor updates residents on COVID-19 during virtual forum Sunday

“As Sidney’s mayor, I want to assure residents, businesses, and community organizations, that the [municipality] is taking actions to ensure the health and safety of our community, including our most vulnerable residents in senior care homes and the homeless,” he said. “We are prioritizing the delivery of essential services to residents and businesses.”

Sunday’s forum, which drew between 23 and 26 participants, touched on a wide range of subjects, including the economic effects of the crisis on local business and efforts to combat them.

McNeil-Smith said he agrees with calls from Greater Victoria business leaders and Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps for rent relief measures.

“This has been raised [in conference calls with provincial officials by mayors],” he said. “It’s urgent, and I would hope that the provincial government and or the federal government would take note,” he said. “We were seeing announcements on a daily basis last week, and I would hope that we see something with regards to rents in the very near future.”

The question of tax deferments also come up. (By way of background, retail expert Richard Talbot said earlier month that most residents would be prepared to pick up the “slack” if the municipal government were to defer property taxes.)

RELATED: Sidney retail expert calls for property tax deferment by municipalities

McNeil-Smith said the municipality is looking at this very prospect. Council, he said, has asked staff to bring forward options to lower Sidney’s previously approved tax increase of 1.79 per cent to zero for this year’s budget, he said. That would impact both home owners, as well as business owners, he said. Staff will also bring forward options for additional tax relief for businesses, “which would be possibly shifting some of the burden to residents to lower the existing taxes to commercial businesses,” said McNeil-Smith.

Humble said the crisis will have “economic” as well “psycho-social” impacts on the local business community in pointing to the active participation of representatives from the Peninsula Chamber of Commerce and the Sidney Business Improvement Association in the EOC.

“Right now, this is likely going to be a long and potentially slow recovery,” he said. “But the [municipality] does have a recovery plan that we are looking at and working on.”

Humble said the municipality is focusing on how promised relief by the provincial and federal governments will reach local businesses. “The other question we are exploring right now is what innovation other communities might have developed with respect to managing their business recovery.”

When asked when the current stage of emergency might lift, Humble said the municipality is ultimately taking its cues from public health officials, in noting that life will not suddenly return to normal.

“It’s going to be a process,” he said. “I anticipate it is going to be a very measured and phased approach over time. It’s anyone’s guess in terms of how long this current situation [remains] as it is currently. I anticipate that we are talking potentially weeks and weeks here.”

Looking more broadly, Humble praised the commitment of Sidney residents towards physical distancing, and McNeil-Smith said current developments are encouraging, while also warning of “some pretty intense weeks” ahead.

“Our combined efforts to date give cautious hope and indication that we are flattening the curve,” he said.”We will have better information in coming weeks, but I just want to applaud all Sidney residents for the actions they have taken. We are going to come out as a stronger and vibrant community at the end of this.”

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