Community members are going to be taking on more responsibility for making sure they’re following COVID-19 health and safety guidelines.
The city’s education and enforcement task force has been exploring how New Westminster can transition from a response phase to a recovery phase regarding COVID-19. Council has endorsed the “personal responsibility approach” recommended by the task force, which aims to encourage individual accountability and allows staff to gradually be sent back to their regular departments.
Jackie Teed, the city’s manager of planning, said the task force believes that continuing to have four COVID compliance offers and maintaining communications through social media and signage, will be sufficient to keep the community informed of COVID requirements.
“We do at this time feel that stopping the programming entirely would be premature,” she said. “However, what we are hearing from many community members is that they are aware, they are really aware, and they are not any longer feeling the need for us to be out there. At the same time we are hearing from other community members that they are happy that we are out there.”
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the city created an education and enforcement task force, which aimed to provide education about the prevention of the spread of the coronavirus. As part of its enforcement efforts, the city launched a COVID compliance hotline and email that people could contact with compliance-related concerns in the city, provided in-person education and enforcement through bylaw officers, COVID compliance offers and physical distancing champions.
Teed said inquiries to the compliance hotline have greatly diminished since it was launched in March.
“So we are feeling comfortable as a committee that reducing the amount of people that we have out there, but maintaining some and maintaining our signage and our communications will help us to bridge that transition,” she said.
Between March 27 and May 8, the hotline received 549 calls and emails, of which 58% were phone calls and 42% were emails. Of those 549 contacts, 84% were to report a concern (such as closures of park and school facilities, businesses not physical distancing and people not physical distancing in parks), and 13% were inquiries.
Under the personal responsibility approach, four call-takers with the compliance hotline will return to their departments and 34 physical distance champions will gradually return to their departments, including library, engineering and parks and recreation.
Coun. Patrick Johnstone supports the plan but wants to maintain a high level of communication through the media, social media and signage about what’s expected from people in terms of personal responsibility. He’s glad to hear that calls to the compliance hotline have slowed down.
“It really helped reduce load on police non-emergency and 911 calls and made it easy for people to find a place to address concerns when they came up,” he said. “So I think that was a really valuable thing to have. I really appreciate the work staff did to put that together really quickly and to provide that sort of one-stop shopping for people who had concerns or even had questions.”
Mayor Jonathan Cote said he believes the vast majority of the community “really get it” and thinks awareness about COVID safety regulations has been assisted by the city’s efforts.
“I think this recommendation finds a good balance of making sure we are continuing to communicate the public health concerns and have some ability to engage directly, but it is also giving an ability for us to bring staff back into their regular responsibilities and duties,” he said.