Beginning Aug. 4, face coverings will be required to be worn on Strathcona County transit vehicles and in county-owned facilities, officials announced on Tuesday.
“The county is taking this action, in step with its regional partners, to further reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission and prevent a spike in infection rates,” officials said in a news release. “A unified regional approach is required to ensure public health measures are implemented effectively.
“This is especially important for preparing for a safe return to schools and supporting the local economy.”
The provincial government has said that the COVID-19 situation varies greatly in different Alberta communities so it does not currently have plans to impose a mask-wearing rule provincewide, instead opting to let municipalities decide whether they want to bring in rules on face coverings.
“This is a huge and diverse province,” Premier Jason Kenney said earlier this month. “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.”
Earlier this month, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw was asked about the idea of mandating masks and she said there are a number of factors to consider.
“We’ve seen some challenges in places where masking has been mandatory and we’re again wanting to learn from those situations,” she said.
“While I mentioned there are cases across the province, there are certain locations that do have higher risk than others. So before we would implement a provincewide measure, I think we would need to consider whether that same measure is required across the province.”
Over the course of the last week, Edmonton, Calgary and other Alberta municipalities brought in rules to make masks mandatory in certain public spaces.
“Mandatory non-medical mask use will give transit customers and county facility users greater confidence in accessing services in the safest way possible,” Strathcona County’s news release said. “As part of the government of Alberta’s provincewide distribution plan… non-medical masks are available to the public at the Bethel Transit Terminal during customer service hours.”
The county said some people will be exempt from the new mask rule: children under the age of two, people with underlying medical conditions or disabilities that prevent them from safely wearing a face covering, those who cannot wear or remove one without assistance, people eating or drinking inside public spaces that offer food or beverages, people exercising or engaging in athletic activities and caregivers or those accompanying someone with a disability.
The decision to bring in the mask requirement was made at a Strathcona County emergency advisory committee meeting on Tuesday. County officials said that the Strathcona County Emergency Management Agency has now been tasked with drafting a bylaw requiring people to wear non-medical masks in all indoor public spaces and public vehicles for hire so council can consider whether to implement such a requirement.
The county said that even if council were to move forward with such a bylaw, it would not apply to areas like schools and daycares that are not open to the general public.
City of Leduc makes wearing of masks mandatory on transit
On Tuesday, the City of Leduc also announced its own mandatory mask requirements. Beginning Aug. 1, all Leduc Transit and LATS (Leduc Assisted Transportation Service) users will be required to wear masks when using the transit system.
“The health and safety of our riders is not only our top priority, but also our responsibility when they are on board our vehicles,” Shawn Olson, acting general manager of infrastructure and planning with the City of Leduc, said in a news release.
“We determined that making mask wearing mandatory is the right thing to do to protect the health of riders and reduces confusion by having the same requirements across the region for transit users.”
People who use Spruce Grove Transit will also be required to wear face coverings starting Aug. 1. That city announced the requirement last week and said it will be in effect for both local and commuter routes.
–With files from Global News’ Caley Ramsay
Watch below: Some Global News videos about the use of masks in Alberta amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.