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Anti-mask rallies draw crowds in Calgary and Edmonton amid coronavirus pandemic

Click to play video 'Protest against mandating use of face masks held in Edmonton' Protest against mandating use of face masks held in Edmonton
WATCH ABOVE: A movement to stop any government mandated use of face masks was held outside the Alberta legislature building Sunday. As Chris Chacon reports, while many in attendance shared their views as to why masks should not be worn, provincial officials continue to stress the significance of wearing them.

Anti-mask rallies at Calgary’s Olympic Plaza and outside the Alberta legislature in Edmonton drew crowds Sunday afternoon as the province continues to deal with the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.

In Calgary, the rally was held in response to city council’s upcoming deliberations on mandatory mask usage.

Read more: Could masks become mandatory in Calgary? Mayor isn’t ruling it out

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“What [Mayor] Nenshi is doing is unnecessary and is going to be more detrimental than positive overall,” March to Unmask organizer Jake Eskesen said Sunday.

On Monday, city council is slated to begin discussions on whether masks should be mandatory on transit and some indoor areas where physical distancing measures can’t be followed.

However, some in the city don’t believe being forced to wear a mask is the answer to stopping the spread of the virus.

Anti-mask protesters are seen in Edmonton on July 19, 2020.
Anti-mask protesters are seen in Edmonton on July 19, 2020. Adam MacVicar/Global News

“Having a choice in this instance is actually very important because there are a lot of categories in our society that are going to be negatively affected by this mask mandate,” Eskesen said.

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Mayor Naheed Nenshi, alongside health and government officials, has repeatedly stressed the importance of wearing a mask when in a crowded indoor space.

However, as more businesses continue their operations, Nenshi noted the need is bigger now than ever to stop a resurgence of the virus so the city can continue to rebuild its economy.

“It’s not mask-wearing or the economy. It’s wearing a mask to save the economy,” Nenshi said Thursday.

Click to play video 'COVID-19: Anti-mask rally planned as Calgary city council looks at making masks mandatory' COVID-19: Anti-mask rally planned as Calgary city council looks at making masks mandatory
COVID-19: Anti-mask rally planned as Calgary city council looks at making masks mandatory

A crowd also gathered in Edmonton, where protesters carried signs with slogans disparaging mask use.

Anti-mask protesters are seen in Edmonton on July 19, 2020.
Anti-mask protesters are seen in Edmonton on July 19, 2020. Dave Carels/Global News

In a news conference Saturday, Premier Jason Kenney also addressed the anti-mask rallies.

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He noted that while some residents have their reservations about wearing masks, the alternative outcome of a second wave could have devastating effects on the province.

“My pitch to those folks, if they’re upset about mask usage, is that that the alternative will inevitably be more widespread suspensions of economic activity if we get a second outbreak,” he said.

“I think the responsible exercise of personal freedom through mask usage, where people cannot physically distance, is a lot better than suspending businesses or social activity.”

Kenney added that while his government doesn’t want to strong-arm the public into wearing face coverings, he hopes residents will take the threat of the virus seriously.

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“All it takes is the exponential growth of a highly-infectious virus of this nature for it to perspectively come back and overwhelm our health care system,” Kenney said.

“I would much rather that we prevent that through the widespread use of masks rather than the government big-footing in and suspending the operation of all sorts of businesses that would have massive social and economic consequences.”

Anti-mask protesters are seen in Edmonton on July 19, 2020.
Anti-mask protesters are seen in Edmonton on July 19, 2020. Adam MacVicar/Global News

But Eskesen is concern about other social consequences.

“There are so many people out there that have issues with masks for different reasons, one being claustrophobia. People who are claustrophobic can get a lot of anxiety over wearing a mask, same with people with other anxiety issues, people on the spectrum,”  he said.

“People with spectrum disorders can have a lot of issues with masks, not just wearing them but interacting with people who have them on, it makes them uncomfortable a lot of the time.”

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Read more: Masks in the mountains: Banff considers mandatory face coverings during COVID-19 pandemic

With Calgarians expressing their concerns for mandatory face mask policies at Sunday’s rally, Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, noted that many people’s reservations on the subject stem from “conspiracy theories” and inaccurate information.

He added there’s substantial evidence that using face masks will help stop the spread of droplets in the air, and could help slow the spread of the virus.

“The emerging evidence for face masks is that they are very effective at doing one thing — restraining your own droplets,” Furness said.

Read more: Coronavirus: University of Alberta study finds growing public support for face masks

Furness added that he believes a good start for Calgary would be for businesses to get on board with implementing their own mask protocols, instead of a city-wide policy.

“I don’t think that imposing fines and really trying to beat people into submission is going to be effective,” he said.

“What you need to do is establish a social norm where masks matter.”.

– With files from Kirby Bourne, 630 CHED and Adam MacVicar, Global News

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