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Saanich Peninsula municipalities work to prepare for effect of Omicron variant

Measures include increased work-from-home options, appointment only interactions
Municipal staff in North Saanich have announced that a maximum of six members of the public can attend that municipality’s upcoming Jan. 17 council meeting out of an abundance of caution. COVID-19 restrictions will also impact aspects. While four councillors must be present, others may connect remotely and staff attendance will be minimized. (Black Press Media file photo)

Municipalities on the Saanich Peninsula have taken multiple steps to reduce the effects of the Omicron variant on municipal resources and activities.

Britt Burnham, Central Saanich’s manager of community services, said their main objectives are to protect the safety and productivity of all staff, while mitigating disruptions to municipal operations.

“We are providing remote work options, staggering shifts and ensuring teams are structured in a way that we have back up,” she said. “Additionally, we have a COVID safety plan that includes physical distancing, masking protocols, enhanced cleaning and daily health checks.”

The municipality also encourages the public to use online services and book appointments to access services from municipal hall, the fire hall and police station. “To ensure first responder safety and staffing, the stations will be closed to the public for the time being,” she said.

Regarding council meetings, Central Saanich permits in-person attendance is permitted, as legislatively required, in an extremely limited capacity, said Burnham.

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Randy Humble, Sidney’s chief administrative officer, said the municipality’s first priority is to ensure a safe workplace and reduce transmission of COVID-19, which also lowers the potential for absenteeism due to illness or mandatory self-isolation.

“Over the past two years, the town has taken precautions through a COVID-19 safety plan and communicable disease plan that reduces close contact between employees,” he said. Examples include staff travelling alone in vehicles, meeting virtually instead of in person and wearing masks when away from individual, distanced work stations, he added.

“With the current spike in cases due to Omicron, some staff members have returned to working remotely, in cases where they can continue to fulfill their duties,” Humble said. “The (municipality) has updated its continuity plans to ensure municipal services are prioritized if a large number of staff are absent due to illness or mandatory self-isolation.”

In North Saanich the municipality’s goal is to continue providing residents with the normal level of service, said communication and engagement manager Erik Lambertson.

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The municipality has updated its working-from-home policy in light of Omicron and will evaluate requests that allow employees to work from home where feasible under these unique circumstances, he added.

“We are in the process of updating our existing COVID workplace safety plan and will post the updated version (on the municipality’s website) as soon as we can,” Lambertson said.

Residents are still required to wear face masks visiting municipal hall, where pandemic-related protocols remain in place. In light of the fact some services are most effectively and efficiently provided in person, Lambertson said, all district staff on duty are double vaccinated, with some having also received booster shots.

As for public meetings, North Saanich is limiting to six the number of public attendees for its Jan. 17 council meeting “out of an abundance of caution,” with staff presence minimal. At least four council members must be present, with others connecting remotely.

In Sidney, the council chamber is closed to in-person public attendance until further notice, but opportunities remain to provide written or electronic submissions, or participate in meetings via Zoom with advance registration.

Central Saanich is still making repairs after suffering water damage in its council chamber so all meetings and public hearings are being conducted virtually and live-streamed on the district website.

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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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