Langley authorities are getting ready for the potential arrival of Covid-19, as the virus continues to spread in the U.S., Europe, and Asia.
“We are taking this very seriously,” said Ginger Sherlock, the emergency program coordinator for Langley Township and City.
Sherlock preps the plans for every emergency that could hit the community, from wildfire to floods to earthquakes.
She said the community has had a couple of close encounters with potential pandemics that have let them hone their emergency plan, with H1N1 in 2009 and SARS in 2003.
So far, the danger from the new coronavirus is thought to be low, and there are no indications as of the start of the week that the virus is spreading in the community.
But with outbreaks all over the world, including in nearby Washington State, it pays to take precautions.
“The good news is, we’re not panicking,” said Sherlock.
Emergency planners and those in senior levels of government, including regional health authorities, are looking at the big picture, Sherlock said.
“How do we help businesses and farmers and daycare providers maintain with their doors open?” she said. “How do we keep our community functioning?”
Local governments have to consider “continuity of operations,” said Sherlock.
“What are those critical functions?”
Those are things like public safety, police and firefighters, and water and sewer.
For firefighters, who often respond to medical calls, both Township and City firefighters are being careful.
“Just being very cautious,” is how deputy Township fire chief Bruce Ferguson described the current situation.
People displaying upper respiratory infection symptoms are being asked if they’ve been out of the country.
In addition, both City and Township crews are equipped with protective gear, including goggles, N-94 masks, gloves, and even full gowns if necessary.
“Obviously it’s at the very top of our awareness,” said deputy City fire chief Ken Sim.
In some cases, fire crews may wait for BC Ambulance paramedics to arrive on scene if there’s a suspected Covid-19 case, Sim said, as they did during the SARS outbreak more than a decade ago.
The best things individuals can do are simple, Sherlock said.
First, they should wash their hands more frequently – always a good precaution during flu season anyway.
That means washing for 20 seconds minimum, with soap. That’s about the length of time it takes to sing the Alphabet Song in your head, Sherlock noted.
Avoid touching your face, and if you have to sneeze or cough, do it into the crook of your elbow instead of into your hand, Sherlock said.
“And if you’re sick, stay home,” Sherlock said.
In other jurisdictions as well as in Canada, people who have had suspected contact with a coronavirus patient have been asked to self-isolate for two weeks, staying home to avoid spreading the virus if they are infected and don’t know it yet.
That means Canadians are being advised to make sure they have a couple weeks worth of food, prescription medicine, and other basic household supplies on hand.
Sherlock joked that, of course, everyone in Langley should already have the ability to “camp out” for two weeks, because of course everyone in Langley should be prepared for an earthquake already.
For people who are sick or self-isolating, there will need to be contingencies, including commercial meal delivery, Meals on Wheels, and volunteers, Sherlock said.
Langley’s municipal governments are also watching the situation.
“We do have a Langley emergency pandemic plan,” said Francis Cheung, administrator of Langley City.
The City is assessing its needs for supplies and equipment should there be community transmission of the virus locally.
“We’re not stocking up on masks,” Cheung said.
The City is taking direction largely from the Ministry of Health, he noted.
“At this time, we do not know if the Township will be impacted by the coronavirus but we are preparing in case we are,” said a statement from the Township of Langley.
That means staying up to date on Fraser Health information and taking guidance from the region’s medical health officers.
Like the City, the Township is giving employees information about proper hand washing, and advising them to stay home if sick.
“With respect to a potential impact on the Township’s workforce and service delivery, as with any emergency or disruption of service, the priority for the Township will be with ensuring public safety,” said the statement. “Options for ensuring service delivery, albeit potentially at a reduced level, are being developed.”
Mayor Jack Froese noted that there isn’t a ban or advisory against large gatherings, but if one is put in place, Township council meetings could be delayed.