The Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association has concerns with the province’s “Open For Summer” plan and is asking Alberta’s two major cities to keep their face covering bylaws in place a while longer.
The EZMSA’s Strategic COVID-19 Pandemic Committee wrote a letter to Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, urging them to require that masks be worn in indoor spaces until 70 per cent of each city’s population has had two doses of COVID-19 vaccine.
Stage 3 of the province’s reopening plan comes into effect two weeks after 70 per cent of eligible Albertans receive one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
As of Sunday night, 66.4 per cent of eligible Albertans had received one dose.
Kenney said May 26 that the mandatory mask rule will likely be lifted — perhaps with some high-risk exceptions — as part of Stage 3.
The EZMSA’s pandemic committee is concerned about the reopening plan.
It said, as of June 3, 36 per cent of Albertans over the age of 12 had received no dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, 64.4 per cent a single dose and only 10.4 per cent had been fully vaccinated.
“Given this low level of full protection, the known ability of the new Delta variant (formerly B.1.617.2, “Indian variant”) to spread more rapidly than previous variants, and the Delta variant’s ability to infect two-thirds of those with only a single dose, it is clear that lifting all restrictions, including the ban on indoor social gatherings, is a bad idea,” reads the letter, signed by EZMSA co-chairs Dr. Noel Gibney and Dr. James Talbot.
“This reckless relaxing of precautions and allowing super-spreader events to take place is likely to jeopardize the smooth reopening of schools and workplaces in the fall.”
The medical group praised both cities for acting on a local level, especially last summer, by mandating masks in indoor spaces.
“Our committee strongly urges you to take similar actions during this Stage 3 of the province’s reopening plan,” the letter said.
Edmonton’s face covering bylaw — which mandates masks or face coverings in all indoor public spaces and vehicles, as well as on public transit — came into effect on Aug. 1 as a way to try to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.
It was extended in November 2020 and is now set to last until Dec. 31, 2021. The bylaw can be rescinded if needed.
Edmonton city manager Andre Corbould said Tuesday during an emergency committee meeting that the city has not yet come to a final recommendation on whether the mask bylaw should end when the province’s does or continue.
The city has been told to expect guidance related to public health recommendations from Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw ahead of Stage 3, he said.
“COVID is not over just because we’re in Stage 3. There will be some guidance.”
Corbould said the city will wait on that guidance from Hinshaw before council makes a decision on the mask bylaw.
“Without council action, the city’s mask bylaw will continue to be in effect until Dec. 31, 2021. In alignment with the provincial shift to recommending masks rather than mandating their use, we will bring an item to council for discussion on this matter at the end of June,” Corbould said.
“If council chooses to amend the bylaw, it’s my intention to continue with the current direction provided to city employees to wear masks while in common areas in city workplaces following Stage 3 and we will continue to wear masks when entering, exiting and moving about things like council chambers.”
He said the extra precaution, based on Occupational Health and Safety recommendations, won’t continue forever.
“It will be a temporary measure as staff are reintegrated into the workplace and full vaccination rates continue to increase,” Corbould said Tuesday.
“We encourage all employers and businesses in Edmonton to make thoughtful decisions about their own mask requirements, considering the recommendations of the chief medical officer of health over the next several months.
“Whether in Stage 3 or well into the future, we continue to welcome and encourage Edmontonians to make good public health choices and that might include continuing to wear masks on transit or indoors or crowded public outdoor spaces.”
Calgary’s mask bylaw is also set to remain in place until the end of 2021, unless the pandemic circumstances like mass vaccination change, and lead administration or council to decide to amend or repeal the bylaw.
Alberta became the last Canadian province to implement a province-wide mask mandate, when it was enacted in December 2020.
Both Iveson and Nenshi have said the cities would make their own decisions about when the local mask mandate would be lifted.
“There are a whole series of options here — from lifting the mask mandate when the province lifts the last of its health restrictions to keeping the mandate completely in place,” Nenshi said May 27. “And a whole bunch of things in between.
“What do we want to do with public transit where distancing is not really that possible? So we want to keep the mask mandate in place so people feel more comfortable and safe on transit, at least for a little while.
“These are the questions that I don’t have answers to yet,” he said. “But certainly those are the things that we’ll be thinking about over the next three or four weeks.”
Nenshi said the decision will be made based on what’s right for public health and the economy.
“It was business that was really pushing us to put into a mask mandate because they felt that it made it easier for their employees to be able to point to a bylaw and keep their customers safe and go back into business.”