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COVID-19: Calgary prepares for mandatory mask bylaw to take effect

COVID-19: Calgary prepares for mandatory mask bylaw to take effect
WATCH ABOVE: With mandatory masking in public spaces set to take effect Aug. 1 in Calgary, many businesses and residents are preparing for the shift. Adam MacVicar reports.

In just over 10 days, Calgarians will be required to wear a mask or face covering whenever they enter an indoor public space within the city, and Mayor Naheed Nenshi is encouraging people to get on board ahead of time.

“Start wearing your masks now,” Nenshi said Wednesday morning. “We’re not going to enforce it until Aug. 1 because we do want to give people the time to get masks, we want to give businesses the time to get their processes in place.”

Masks have been a top seller at The Cardroom at Kricket’s in southwest Calgary throughout the coronavirus pandemic, but sales have begun to explode since city council’s 12-3 vote on Tuesday night to make them mandatory.

Myth-busting claims being made about face masks
Myth-busting claims being made about face masks

According to the store’s co-owner Dan Faassan, prior to Wednesday, the store would sell between 30 to 40 masks per day.

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“We’re just trying to keep up. The hardest thing now is trying to find inventory or distributors because they’re just hard to get at the moment,” Faassan said.

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

The city said it will be distributing some masks at public facilities for those who don’t have one.

The provincial government has distributed 40-million masks across Alberta, with many being distributed at A&W, McDonald’s and Tim Hortons restaurant locations at drive-thrus in the province.

However, provincial officials are warning that many of those locations have run out of stock due to high demand in Calgary and Edmonton.

According to the province, five-million masks have been distributed to 21 transit services in the province, including Calgary Transit, and 2.5-million masks have been distributed at 1,000 places of worship in Alberta.

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The province is not committing to providing more masks now that Calgary has introduced its mandatory mask mandate.

“Non-medical masks are readily available through commercial suppliers,” Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan said in a statement to Global News. “Our initiative is not intended to take the place of those suppliers on an ongoing basis.”

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McMillan added that Alberta is the only province in Canada to have distributed free non-medical masks to the public.

Read more: Educators, parents react to Alberta decision to send K-12 students back to classrooms in fall

Some big-box chains like Mark’s (formerly known as Mark’s Work Wearhouse) are stepping up to ensure customers are wearing masks and will begin to provide masks to customers before they enter the stores.

“We’re going to make sure that we educate our customers as they come into our buildings,” said Rob Hauta, assistant vice-president of operations at Mark’s. “We’ll have masks available for customers in the event that they forgot, or maybe aren’t aware of the mask mandate.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to our No. 1 priority, which is keeping our customers and employees safe at all times.”

Shopping malls, entertainment facilities and taxis would all be part of the new bylaw. However, spaces such as schools, daycares and private residences would be exempt from the mask mandate.

Other exemptions include:

  • Children under two years old
  • People with underlying medical conditions or disabilities inhibiting their ability to wear a face covering
  • People who are unable to place, use or remove a face covering safely without assistance
  • People who are eating or drinking at restaurants and bars
  • People engaging in an athletic or fitness activity
  • People who are caregiving for or accompanying a person with a disability where wearing a face covering would hinder the accommodation of the person’s disability
  • People who have temporarily removed their face covering where doing so is necessary to provide or receive a service (for example, a dental practice)

Read more: ‘We’re going to run out of time’: Health experts sound alarm as Canada’s coronavirus cases rise

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But some, like Lloyd Delegarde, feel the new rule puts them at a disadvantage and fear being discriminated against even if they have a good reason why they can’t wear a mask. 

Delegarde said he and his wife both have underlying medical conditions that prevent them from wearing a mask for long periods of time.

“We can’t get around anywhere,” he said. “We’re trapped indoors, can’t go to any businesses, can’t take transit — all we can do is walk around the block.

“I say wearing them is perfectly alright for people who can wear them, but don’t single out people with disabilities and other issues that prevent them from wearing them.”

An infectious disease specialist said that the new bylaw is a good way to lower the transmission rate of the novel coronavirus, despite skepticism from some Calgarians about needing to wear a mask or face covering.

“In the highest-risk indoor environments, we know that masks are likely going to have some type of effect, and that’s where I think they should be used with the highest yield,” Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti said.

“So normalizing the use of masks is going to be important, especially in indoor environments where people are huddled together.”

Although the city said it would focus on education over enforcement, non-compliance can net people fines ranging from $100 to $200.

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Coronavirus: Calgary city council makes minor tweaks to mask bylaw
Coronavirus: Calgary city council makes minor tweaks to mask bylaw

Bylaw tweaks

On July 27, council made minor tweaks to the bylaw, including adding the word “temporary” to it.

It voted 10-5 in favour of lowering the fine for not wearing a mask from $100 to $50.

Council also requested that the mayor send a formal request to the provincial ministers of education and health as well as the chairs of local boards of education, advocating for a mask policy to be created for Calgary students prior to schools reopening.

Council wants to direct administration to investigate the potential for schools to be regulated under the temporary COVID-19 face-covering bylaw and report back to council by Aug. 24.

– With files from Carolyn Kury de Castillo

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