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Banff passes mandatory mask bylaw that includes outdoor areas

Click to play video 'Banff’s face mask bylaw includes indoor and outdoor spaces' Banff’s face mask bylaw includes indoor and outdoor spaces
WATCH: The tourist hub of Banff, Alberta is now the first Canadian municipality mandating people to wear face masks in certain outdoor spaces. Heather Yourex-West explains the new rules, and how people are reacting.

Banff town council voted 7-0 on Monday in favour of a bylaw that requires people to wear masks in indoor public places and along a stretch of Banff Avenue.​​

Beginning this Friday, July 31, masks will be mandatory in all enclosed public spaces like shops, cafés and facilities, as well as outside in downtown Banff’s pedestrian zone.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Banff council passes bylaw that requires mask use indoors and outside' Coronavirus: Banff council passes bylaw that requires mask use indoors and outside
Coronavirus: Banff council passes bylaw that requires mask use indoors and outside

Two blocks of Banff Avenue — the town’s main drag — have been closed to vehicle use since June to allow for physical distancing.

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“At times, particularly on weekends, it gets quite busy in our downtown core, although we have created more than two and a half times the surface area than our sidewalks normally hold. For pedestrians to social distance, it still can be a challenge and you have to cross paths occasionally,” said Silvio Adamo, director of protective services and Banff fire chief.

There are some exceptions to Banff’s mandatory mask bylaw, including children under the age of two, those with medical conditions that prevent safe masking and those who cannot put on or remove their mask without assistance.

The fine for not following the bylaw is $150.

‘A crowded outdoor area’

Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen said she is thrilled with the decision and proud of council.

“Over 90 per cent of the feedback we received was, ‘Please do this and please do it now,’ both from residents and from businesses,” she said.

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

Sorensen believes Banff is the only municipality in Canada that has put a mandatory mask bylaw in place in an outdoor space. Masks will be required in the 100 to 200 block of Banff Avenue, currently a pedestrian zone, due to crowds.

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“We do have some retailers where there tends to be some lineups. We have some very popular retailers and just even when people are going in and out of stores, it can get quite crowded and squishy. We felt for the duration of the time that Banff Avenue is a pedestrian zone, it was important to put this in place,” she said.

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“It’s a bit like a mall. We understand it’s outside but it’s a crowded outdoor area.”

Read more: COVID-19: Hinshaw stands by Alberta’s relaunch while announcing 8 new deaths, 304 new cases

Since the end of June, six “COVID safety ambassadors” have been handing out free masks on Banff Avenue. The seasonal workers were hired by the town and 100,000 masks were supplied by the province. So far, around 15,000 have been distributed.

“Enforcement is not our first priority,” Sorenson said. “Education is our first priority.

Click to play video 'The town of Banff opts for mandatory face masks during pandemic' The town of Banff opts for mandatory face masks during pandemic
The town of Banff opts for mandatory face masks during pandemic

“We also want to make sure our businesses in the indoor spaces don’t feel pressure that they have to enforce. We’re providing signage to all of our businesses to put up in their windows. We’ve asked them to have hand sanitization stations.

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“There are some businesses that are handing out masks and we certainly have some businesses that already are saying unless you wear a mask you can’t come in. So we’re leaving that up to businesses, but luckily our businesses can say to people, ‘If you don’t have a mask, you can go out onto Banff Avenue and they’re being given out for free.’”

Read more: COVID-19: Edmonton to make masks mandatory in city-operated facilities, on public transit

Sorenson said if the province had mandated masks it would have been “easier” for the municipalities that are now creating bylaws.

As of Friday, Banff had eight active cases of COVID-19, the highest number the town has seen since the start of the pandemic, according to Adamo.

‘Everybody just feels a lot safer’

Jason Bantle is the owner of All in the Wild gallery on Banff Avenue. He’s not worried about customers shying away if they have to wear masks.

“I would find the opposite. I think people would feel that they are safe to come in because the reality is, we have done everything we can in the gallery to make it safe for people who are visiting us,” Bantle said.

“There is the odd occasion where people get a little bit close. So I think if you have a mask, everybody just feels a lot safer.”

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Read more: Seven $1,200 tickets given to Americans who hiked in Banff National Park in past week: RCMP

Kit Hall was walking down Banff Avenue with a mask on Monday. The Calgary resident supports the bylaw.

“I feel like it’s quite important because it’s so busy. We are here on Monday and I couldn’t imagine what it’s going to be like on a weekend and everyone is walking so close to each other. I feel like it’s important just to keep yourself safe,” Hall said.

Calgary, Edmonton and Canmore

Calgary has already voted to implement mandatory masks in public indoor spaces. Edmonton has opted for mandatory masks in city-owned facilities and on public transit and will debate a stricter bylaw later this week.

Canmore will hold a special meeting on Aug. 4 regarding the issue.

Canmore Mayor John Borrowman said on Monday that he expects it will be approved and “come into effect very quickly.”