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Recovery task force gets first glimpse at COVID-19 impacts

Presentations will help task force identify challenges moving forward
St. Albert’s 10-member COVID-19 recovery task force met for the first time in-person at the Douglas Cardinal Boardroom at St. Albert Place June 8. The meeting was livestreamed over Zoom.

St. Albert’s COVID-19 recovery task force got a glimpse into the magnitude of economic and social COVID-19 impacts the city is facing.

The 10-member group met for the first time June 8.

Catriona Gunn-Graham, senior manager of community services, advised the committee to plan to support non-profits, and residents and their families needing emergent care. This could include hosting events for people to connect, like block parties and barbecues.

Gunn-Graham said Alberta Health Services reported a lot of people with existing mental health issues didn't connect with mental health services during the first few months of the pandemic, resulting in more patients needing more care in hospital emergency rooms.

“We also know there’s been an increase of anxiety, depression, grief and loss amongst our population,” she said.

In March, the Community Village and Food Bank gave out 411 hampers for 1,230 people, a 36-year high.

Stop Abuse in Families reported 133 current clients, where before they were averaging between 70 to 100.

The Family Resource Centre saw increased demand for parenting supports, especially for those with children between the ages of eight and 16. Child and Family Services saw a decrease in reports of child abuse in St. Albert, she said. But that silence is worrying.

"Those kids are not being exposed to teachers, to coaches, who could report if they suspect abuse. Child and Family Services is trying to figure out how to reach out more," she said.

Not-for-profit organizations are dealing with impacts themselves, she said. Increased demand for services, reduced ability to host traditional fundraising events, potential reductions in government grants, changing technology requirements, mental health supports for staff and hiring back previously laid off staff have been challenging to navigate.

Melanie Humphrey, the city's corporate data analyst for strategic services and information technology, said unemployment rates in the Edmonton Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) stood at 10 per cent in April. The number of people actually working or actively looking for work showed a 66.7-per-cent drop.

Job losses were highest in public administration, healthcare and social assistance, as well as accommodation and food services in St. Albert. On the flip side, finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing jobs saw the most growth.

Normally by the end of May, there are 144 new business licences in St. Albert on average; the total for this period was 103, with 61 licences for home-based and 42 for brick-and-mortar.

"The challenge we've got with the reduction is we lose tax base, we lose dollars spent in the community. People are maybe thinking this is not the best time to start a business."

On government supports, 38 per cent of respondents said they had accessed the CERB benefit, while 27 per cent said they took advantage of the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA). Meanwhile, 26 per cent said they hadn't accessed any supports.

“What's surprising is the third-highest one is none. Either their business model is such, or their financial situation is such, that they haven't taken advantage of any programs,” she said.

On the bright side, there are major industrial projects happening outside St. Albert's front door, including Inter Pipeline's petrochemical facility and Canada Kuwait Petrochemical Corporation's (CKPC) propylene and polypropylene facility. There lies an opportunity to attract workers at these industrial plants to live in St. Albert, Humphrey said.

Sean McRitchie, director of economic development, said there could be plenty of downstream opportunities in St. Albert to partner with major petrochemical developers, especially when servicing for Range Road 260 and the build-out of the Lakeview Business District gets underway.

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