West Enders concerned about seeing construction still continuing in midst of COVID-19 crisis

(Updated with more letters 31-March-2020, at bottom) Local residents have shared with WEN copies of their letters to civic and provincial officials expressing concern when seeing construction work continuing during the COVID-19 crisis. Below is an excerpt of one we have received.

man standing near gray metal equipment

Photo by Kateryna Babaieva on Pexels.com

Letter from a West End resident

28-March-2020

Dear Mr. Spencer Chandra Herbert [BC MLA for Vancouver-West End],

I am a long term resident of the West End of Vancouver, one of the densest areas in the province and home to many seniors and vulnerable people. Also home to many young families. As you well know, it is a diverse community.

In addition to watching the pandemic spread precipitously I have watched the daily briefings by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. While I respect and admire her, I am afraid that I have become increasingly alarmed and discouraged by the province’s refusal to take more stringent actions to restrict gatherings and non-essential services. It is an extremely difficult decision to make but given our location next to Washington State, the large number of tourists that visit here, and the close proximity of the population in our community, it is unwise to delay any longer.

As evidenced by their behaviours, many of the younger people from both our community and those that come here for the beaches and entertainment have either not understood the risk or ignored it.

Moreover, in our neighbourhood we have a large number of people continuing to work in the construction industry while everyone else is being asked to self isolate. Surely this is a non-essential service that puts the workers, their families and our community at risk.

The physicians from the Royal Columbian Hospital and many other health care professionals have asked, in fact pleaded, for greater restrictions on movements and services. Municipalities have started to act to protect their populations because of what is perceived as a lack of action by the Province.

There are now many examples of other jurisdictions within Canada and internationally acting quickly and decisively to slow the spread. It is a sad statement to see that Premier Ford of Ontario has been more progressive than our own government by releasing the list of essential workplaces and services on Monday night. He has received positive feedback from both supporters and non-supporters for his leadership.

Many people are worried and unhappy. Your government needs to act. We cannot wait and see any longer. The potential costs are too high.

Thanks for your attention to this matter,

West End resident (name withheld for privacy)

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Hello Mr. Stewart, Mr. Chandra-Herbert, Mr. Farnworth,  and Mr. Dix,

I have been a resident of the West End for over 15 years.   I have appreciated the regular information flow and the hard work by public health and all sectors of government during these unprecedent times.  Thank you.

I am emailing you today concerning a matter of great current importance, within the context of the coronavirus health emergency.

This emergency has resulted in the implementation of very necessary public health guidelines designed to reduce transmission of the virus.  Most individuals, commercial activity, service  sectors, and cultural institutions in our city and province have responded and have been profoundly affected as a result of their efforts to follow these guidelines.

In this climate of shared effort and responsibility, I do not understand how routine, non-essential construction activity can be continuing at this time.  This is especially concerning, as other jurisdictions (such as the province of  Quebec, New York City) have halted all construction that is not essential to overcoming the pandemic or to supporting key infrastructure.

I live within a block of four, active residential construction sites. The majority of the units being constructed on these sites  are market condominium units. I do not understand why this type of construction activity qualifies as an essential service at this time of crisis. Nonetheless, current Provincial guidelines stipulate a cap of 50 on the number of workers who can be on site and both hygiene and physical distancing guidelines that must  be enforced.

On casual but regular observation of the site that is nearest to my building, it seems  that the physical distancing guidelines are not being consistently  followed  or enforced.  I have no idea how hygiene regulations are enforced in a workspace that includes common access and toileting facilities.  Casual observation also confirms that many of the workers on these sites enter the neighbourhood on coffee/lunch breaks.  They then  return to their homes at the end of the work day.

This scenario presents unnecessary risks to all concerned, including the construction workers themselves. What we have is a scenario that increases, rather than decreases, the likelihood of community transmission of this virus.

This construction activity is not currently essential to maintaining the health, safety and the functioning of our community. Our City government has discretionary emergency power within the guidelines set out by the province. Our provincial leaders have an obligation to continue with their work and efforts to limit the transmission of this virus.

Please close all non-essential construction sites now.

Thank you,

West End resident (name withheld for privacy)

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To Honourable Mike Farnworth (B.C. Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General)

28-March-2020

Dear Mr. Farnworth,

A few days ago I sent an email to your colleagues Mr. Chandra Herbert, Mr. Dix and Mr. Horgan asking why BC was not issuing more stringent orders to protect us. I also asked why we did not know what constituted essential and non-essential services. Since that time you have issued a list of essential services and I was quite stunned to see “Construction” as a non-health essential service. Perhaps I could understand it if it was specifically for construction for needed temporary health facilities or facilities to house the homeless. But it is incomprehensible how you could list “Construction” for market and luxury housing as essential at this time.
It is obvious to anyone in the West End and elsewhere in the city that the workers at those sites are easy targets for the coronavirus. Just imagine the conditions in the portable toilets and the frequency of use with workers touching the many surfaces and ask yourself if this is what you would want for your family. These workers are forced to work closely together on some of the projects. They are constantly touching surfaces and hand sanitizers, soap and sinks are not close at hand. Nor do they have time to use them if they are. And at the end of the day they get onto the buses or share their vehicles to go home to their families and friends.
Consider their safety. Many of them have expressed concern for their safety and the safety of others in the last number of days.
Other industries equally important to our economy have been designated as non-essential. It is time to do the same to the construction industry.
Respectfully,
West End resident (name withheld for privacy)

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