Calgary city council has come to a decision on its mandatory mask bylaw that could see masks gone as soon as July 5.
Council voted 8-6 to get an update from administration in two weeks with data on hospitalizations, case counts and vaccination rates.
Pending that data, the bylaw could be lifted on July 5 or soon after.
“Let’s get a couple more weeks of data. Let’s see how second doses (are going) and what’s happening with the Delta variant,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said.
Nenshi told reporters following the vote that he is also expecting city administration to provide more options for council to consider, including whether or not to leave masks mandated on transit, or what to do for certain situations like day camps with children too young to be vaccinated.
A motion to repeal the mask bylaw in Calgary on July 1 by Ward 11 Coun. Jeromy Farkas was defeated with a 7-7 tie.
The discussion on when Calgary’s temporary face-covering bylaw should expire comes as Alberta inches closer to Stage 3 of the province’s Open for Summer plan, which will see nearly all COVID-19 health restrictions lifted as of July 1.
Currently, Alberta remains in Stage 2, with masking requirements in place throughout the province.
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However, even after Alberta progresses to Stage 3 and the general indoor mask mandate throughout the province is lifted, a mandatory mask bylaw would still be in effect in Calgary.
According to a presentation from Calgary’s Emergency Management Agency, half of the province’s active COVID-19 cases are in Calgary and many are confirmed to be the Delta variant, a more contagious strain of the virus.
According to medical officials, people with one dose are far less protected against the Delta variant than those with both doses of the vaccine.
According to city officials, 29.9 per cent of eligible Calgarians are fully vaccinated with both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Council administration had identified four options for Calgary’s face-covering bylaw, including:
- repealing the bylaw on July 31, 2021.
- repealing the bylaw once the province enters Stage 3 of Alberta’s Open for Summer plan.
- repealing the bylaw when 75 per cent of eligible Calgarians are fully vaccinated.
- keeping it in place until December 2021, as per the original bylaw.
Administration had recommended that council go ahead with the first recommendation and that the bylaw expire on July 31, saying it would help ensure that COVID-19 cases in Calgary don’t increase once the province moves to Stage 3.
Ward 13 Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart along with Ward 10 Coun. Shane Keating brought forward the recommendation of July 5, pending the data at the time.
Colley-Urquhart said she was concerned with the timeline with the Calgary Stampede taking place soon after virtually all public health restrictions in the province are lifted.
“It does concern me, colleagues, that there are about 475,000 unprotected Calgarians right now, many of whom are in line to get their first or second shots in the coming weeks, and they deserve our protection,” she told council.
Local urgent care physician Dr. Raj Bhardwaj also provided input to council to help with their decision.
Bhardwaj told council he’d like to see the mask bylaw remain in effect until late August, and have its repeal linked to up-to-date data on the city’s COVID-19 situation.
“We would like it to end finally, and if that means going a little more slowly with the reopening so that we don’t have to do this again in August or September or October, then I would take that position,” he said.
Bhardwaj said he is cautiously optimistic about the provincial reopening plan, and added that outdoor events like the Stampede could have a lower risk of transmission. He said, however, his concern lies with summer events around the Stampede like crowded bars and CTrains.
Several councillors were concerned with going against the reopening plan at the advice of Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.
Ward 6 Coun. Jeff Davison noted that while he supported repealing the bylaw on July 1, he and his family would continue wearing masks in situations with higher risks of transmission.
Ward 1 Coun. Ward Sutherland told council that he wanted to leave the choice of masking up to Calgarians.
“Anybody can wear a mask tomorrow without a mask bylaw, it’s a choice,” Sutherland said. “The people who are apprehensive: wear a mask; the people that aren’t: don’t wear a mask.”
Nenshi questioned the province’s track record on its COVID-19 response and said he’d like to see more time given for Calgarians who may be around maskless people every day like transit operators, cab drivers and grocery store clerks.
“Ultimately, that’s what we have to get our heads around, making sure we’re protecting people for whom there is no choice,” Nenshi said.
The mayor confirmed that the Calgary Stampede would require people to wear masks at indoor venues, whether or not there is a bylaw in place.
Calgary’s temporary face-covering bylaw was passed in July 2020, months before Premier Jason Kenney announced a provincewide mask mandate in November 2020.
According to the city bylaw, failure to wear a face-covering where required can result in a $500 fine.