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Edmonton councillors to debate mandatory masks Thursday afternoon

Edmonton councillors debating mandatory masks
The topic of mandatory masks will be up for discussion at Edmonton city hall on Thursday afternoon. Nicole Stillger reports.

The topic of mandatory masks will be up for discussion at Edmonton City Hall on Thursday afternoon.

A special emergency advisory committee meeting has been called by Mayor Don Iveson for 1:30 p.m. Councillors will discuss city administration’s “mandatory mask decision-making model and associated fact-based indicators.”

In a statement, Iveson said he called the meeting because he has heard that many Edmontonians — including himself — would like to see more mask usage. This includes a possible mask mandate for public and some private indoor spaces.

“City council needs to come back from summer recess to receive information on the pandemic situation in our community, discuss what the evidence-based indicators for mandatory masks would be and understand what this would look like in a regional context with our neighbouring municipalities in the Edmonton Metropolitan area.”

The debate comes after Calgary city council on Tuesday approved making masks mandatory in indoor public spaces and public vehicles amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The new bylaw comes into effect on Aug. 1.

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Read more: Coronavirus: Calgary city council approves mandatory masks indoors​, on transit

Other Canadian cities have already moved to make masks mandatory indoors, including Toronto. Earlier this month, Quebec became the first province in Canada to require mask-wearing in all indoor public spaces.

Mandatory masks were debated by Edmonton’s emergency advisory committee in early July, at which time it was decided that the face coverings would continue to be “strongly recommended” but not mandatory in indoor public spaces in the city.

Read more: Face masks continue to be ‘strongly recommended,’ not mandatory in Edmonton

At the time, city officials cited concerns around enforcement. Iveson also expressed concerns around inconsistent rules in municipalities within the Edmonton metro region.

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“We would prefer that the government of Alberta make a consistent determination for the province and use their education tools to do that,” Iveson said on July 2.

COVID-19: Edmonton debating whether masks should be mandatory
COVID-19: Edmonton debating whether masks should be mandatory

St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron said Wednesday she reached out to her regional colleagues on Wednesday morning to see where they sit on mandating masks.

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“I’ve asked them if they are considering mandatory mask bylaws such as Calgary did or if they’re considering a mask bylaw in just city facilities, including transit. My third question is are we willing to move forward with this issue as a united body? Either we all do it or we don’t,” she said.

“My residents, I think 25 to 30 per cent of them work in Edmonton. So we are crossing the boundaries multiple times a day into Sturgeon County, Morinville, Strathcona, so it would lead to great confusion in the region about when you need to wear a mask and when you don’t wear a mask.”

Read more: Should masks be mandatory? It depends

Heron said her preference would be to make a decision as a region.

“Right now, what I’m hearing back from my regional colleagues is there is still the consensus that we need to follow Alberta Health’s lead and when they lead on a mandatory mask bylaw we will follow.”

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Wednesday that the province believes these decisions “are better taken locally.”

“This is a huge and diverse province. The challenges a very dense city might face on crowded buses couldn’t be more different than a remote rural municipality where there are no active cases.”

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Iveson said he had deferred to the province for a coordinated approach, but the premier’s comments Wednesday “clearly download the decision onto cities, though without regard to practical enforceability for municipalities or the complex regional dynamics we have in the Edmonton area.”

“I still strongly believe that a mandatory mask directive should come from the province and Alberta Health Services as it would help with compliance and consistency across the Edmonton region. As we know, the virus is not contained by municipal borders.

“That being said, I’m focused on keeping Edmontonians as safe as possible, so exploring a mandatory mask bylaw is a practical next step for city council.”

Health officials say masks and other non-medical face coverings can help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, if worn properly.

Read more: Coronavirus: Non-medical masks now recommended for Canadians, officials say

The city’s last emergency advisory committee meeting was held on July 2 and was meant to be the last of the summer, but officials said a meeting could be called on a moment’s notice to continue debate around the COVID-19 response in Edmonton.

Thursday’s debate comes after a spike of cases of COVID-19 in Alberta. On Tuesday, Alberta reported 141 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of active cases in the province to 1,193. As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 233 active cases of COVID-19 in the Edmonton zone.

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