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Apr. 8, 2020 | Wednesday
Editorials and Opinions
Zalepa on COVID-19: Flooded with pandemic calls, region opens hotline
Regional Coun. Gary Zalepa. (File photo)

Gary Zalepa
Special to The Lake Report

As public concerns developed over the COVID-19 pandemic, Niagara Region offices began to receive about 750 calls daily compared to the typical 100 on a normal day.

Public health and emergency services staff acted fast to establish a call centre to meet the volume of calls, including training 50 family nurses to help out. That has reduced wait times  to 10 minutes from three hours.

Additionally, staff launched an online chat feature and can now effectively manage 112 calls per hour or 1,700 daily.

The result has been the creation of a central COVID-19 information line for Niagara operating seven days a week  – and this was all accomplished in just four days.

You can reach the COVID-19 information centre at 905-688-8248 ext. 7019.

The global pandemic is evolving quickly, as the entire country deals with the reality of social distancing, self-isolation and economic shut down. Niagara residents need to know your federal, provincial and local governments are co-operating fully to ensure that efforts are co-ordinated, ensuring public safety is paramount.

I want to thank all our public servants, providing professional, fact-based recommendations in a stressful environment. Thanks also to all our front-line emergency workers, community care, health care, and all employees who are serving our community needs and protecting the most vulnerable.

Since last week the region in partnership with all Niagara municipalities enacted the Regional Emergency Operations Centre and the Public Health Emergency Operations Centre. These actions are part of Niagara’s previously approved Business Continuity Plans. The emergency operations groups meet daily, including weekends.

The focus now is on COVID-19 virus community impacts and co-ordinated responses with the federal and provincial directives that are coming out daily.

About 75 per cent of regional government services are essential, including caring for 900 long-term care residents, over 11,000 Niagara residents who receive much-needed pay benefits and the thousands of residents receiving housing or housing benefits. Plus there are all the public works assets to maintain and operate.

Regional staff are being asked where possible to refocus their work to support these essential services, based upon roles needed, skills and urgency. Arrangements have been made for people to  work from home as much as possible, keeping staff healthy for continuity of essential services.

On March 18, the Niagara Economic Rapid Response Team was setup by Niagara’s mayors and the regional chair. Their function is to support local businesses affected by COVID-19. We have four ways that business can seek help: contact ERRT@niagararegion.ca, visit its website niagaracanada.com/services/business-support, take the ERRT survey, and follow the group on social media.

Council has also approved plans to conduct meetings remotely during this period of a provincial state of emergency. When council met, social distancing was respected by locating councillors throughout the council chambers; the province passed enabling legislation the next day.

Regional council also gave powers to the regional chair and CAO Ron Tripp to do what’s necessary to ensure adequate resources are made available for the region’s essential services.

All regional facilities are now closed to public access, but many essential staff are working at the facilities.

Five regional council members are in self-isolation due to travel. Council’s next meeting is March 26 at 6:30 p.m. Councillors can participate remotely or in person with social distancing precautions in place. That agenda is primarily concerning prior municipal business from recent standing committees, all of which occurred prior to the pandemic. All council meetings can be viewed via live streaming or via recordings on our website.

Managing the health and well-being of Niagara residents is our primary concern. Supporting local business in these uncertain times is also a focus of the region’s attention.

Please adhere to the directions of all levels of government. Practise self-isolation if you have travelled or feel unwell, seek medical assistance as directed by health authorities and take care of your neighbours and family members. Do not hesitate to contact me if you have any concerns or questions.

Gary Zalepa is regional councillor for NOTL. gary.zalepa@niagararegion.ca

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