Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman is expected to return home Thursday from a vacation to Mexico, upon which she will spend the next two weeks in isolation.
"I am returning from Mexico today - landed and three days later the COVID-19 lit up our lives," Ackerman said by email March 18.
There were 118 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Mexico, and zero deaths as of March 18. Four have recovered, one is in critical condition. Ackerman's husband will also spend time in isolation, and both are required to under federal and provincial public health orders in place to limit the spread of the virus pandemic.
At home, B.C. announced 45 new cases Wednesday, bringing the provincial total to 231, and a state of emergency has been declared. There are nearly 700 cases in Canada, and more than 200,000 worldwide.
Coun. Lilia Hansen has been acting mayor, and chaired the March 9 council meeting.
The next meeting is scheduled for March 23, and the city says Ackerman will attend her meetings by conference calls. Both the council meeting and public hearing on March 23 will continue as scheduled with changes to meet public health order requirements, the city said.
Ackerman said she had the first of regular calls Tuesday night with Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, as well as Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson and officials with Emergency Management BC.
Ackerman says the province's emergency management and disaster finance laws do not recognize "pandemics" as disasters or emergencies for municipalities like Fort St. John.
"If it did, we could have the authority to declare an emergency and deal with our local issues and restrictive operational policies in this situation," Ackerman said.
"This would be hugely beneficial for Communities as we have many asking what we are doing. At this time, we can only manage our operations. Without the tools, we cannot do anything else."
All city recreation facilities are closed. City hall is limited to public access between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., as is the Beaton Building, for Development Services. There is no public access to all other city buildings. On Wednesday afternoon, city crews were out plowing roads in Mathews Park.
Ackerman said Lori Halls, the deputy minister for Emergency Management BC, recognized that provincial policy falls short and expects changes.
Ackerman also said the specific locations of the four confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Northern Health region are not being released due to privacy laws and to avoid spreading panic and rumours in communities.
The cases did not originate in any northern community, and are related to travel, Ackerman said. The individuals drove home under strict conditions to isolate and know the persons they have been in contact with, she said.
"We will get through this and I hope we will see a better, more understanding world," Ackerman said.
This is a developing story.
Read the latest developments on COVID-19 in Fort St. John by clicking here.
Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at email@example.com.