The City of Edmonton has launched a new program meant to help those with conditions that make it difficult to wear a mask identify themselves as being exempt from the city’s mandatory mask bylaw while in public spaces.
According to Ward 3 City Coun. Jon Dziadyk, the exemption card program was officially launched this weekend at a series of recreation centres around the city.
“What we have developed is a card system that will indicate to those challenging someone not wearing a mask that they indeed are exempt,” Dziadyk said Sunday. “A lot of people are quite happy to receive these cards.”
According to the city, while the new rules mean face masks are required indoors, there are exceptions to the bylaw, including those with physical or mental concerns. Those who have limitations in wearing a mask do not need to explain why, but Dziadyk explained the card program was launched after hearing about some tension in public spaces.
“A lot of people have medical or other exemptions, and it might not be clear to the naked eye what those exemptions are, so there has been reports of some friction amongst customers,” he said.
“I think that we can trust the public to ask for the card if they require one.”
‘Completely invalidates bylaw’: intensive care doctor
However, one Edmonton physician says that he believes there are actually very few people with legitimate medical exemptions.
“There are very, very few medically indicated reasons for not wearing a mask,” Dr. Darren Markland, an intensive care physician at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, said Sunday. “And they all tend to revolve around neurological or psychiatric conditions.
“I’m not saying these aren’t real things, but they are the minority of cases.”
Markland said that he was not surprised to see masks come out as a political issue in many regions of the world, including in Edmonton.
“Mask policy was going to be contentious no matter how we brought it out,” he said. “Masks work because people want to use them. If you are concerned about your fellow citizen, and you are concerned about keeping the pandemic in check until we have a cure or a vaccine, then you’re going to do a mask and you’re going to do it properly.
“Once you go to mandating masks, that changes the situation dramatically,” Markland said. “Suddenly you are imposing your will on somebody.
“And if they disagree with that then there will be technical issues with wearing a mask improperly.”
Markland added that he believes the new exemption card program “completely invalidates the bylaw.”
Coun. Dziadyk said Sunday that he believes the majority of people will still be wearing masks, even with the card system. “Everyone needs to wear a mask indoors unless you are exempt,” Dziadyk said, adding that Edmontonians should also be following public health orders including social distancing and frequent hand washing.
Markland said that he wants all Edmontonians to realize that COVID-19 is still a very real risk.
“I see the worst-case scenario as an intensive care physician,” he said. “I see young people who die from this. We know it can affect every organ in the body,” Markland said. “It can leave people with permanent forms of arthritis or kidney failure.
“Just like everyone was thinking they were going to win the 50/50, no one thinks they’re going to lose the COVID game.
“We’ve got to keep on, we’ve got to keep being strong about this. Because come fall, we’re going to see the second resurgence.”
Mask exemption cards are available at the following locations in Edmonton: Terwillegar Community Rec Centre, Clareview Community Rec Centre, The Meadows Community Rec Centre, Commonwealth Community Rec Centre, Kinsmen Sports Centre, Bonnie Doon Leisure Centre and the Jasper Place Leisure Centre.
Those who request a card will not be expected to provide proof of why they need it.
City council approved the bylaw in a 10-3 vote on July 29. Councillors Jon Dziadyk, Tony Caterina and Mike Nickel voted against the bylaw. It came into effect Aug. 1.View link »