Edmonton city council aims to decide when to deactivate mandatory mask bylaw on Friday

Click to play video: 'Masks still required in some circumstances once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted in Alberta' Masks still required in some circumstances once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted in Alberta
Even after Alberta enters Stage 3 of the COVID-19 reopening plan, masks will still be required when riding transit, in rideshares and in continuing care and acute care settings such as hospitals. Julia Wong has the details from Dr. Deena Hinshaw's Tuesday update. – Jun 22, 2021

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally said Edmonton’s mandatory mask bylaw would remain in effect until at least July 5 when city council could have a third reading on deactivating the bylaw. However, council later decided to hold a special meeting on Friday, June 25 so that third reading could take place before July 1. This story has been updated to reflect the new development.

Even though the Alberta government will lift its mask mandate on July 1, when to lift the City of Edmonton’s mask bylaw won’t be decided until at least Friday.

City council met Tuesday afternoon to discuss the city’s current face coverings bylaw, which came into effect because of the COVID-19 pandemic last August.

City administration recommended Edmonton councillors deactivate the bylaw at the same time Alberta moves into Stage 3 of reopening and lifts the province-wide mask mandate on Canada Day.

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“In the event conditions change after the start of Stage 3 and Alberta returns to a previous stage of the relaunch plan, or if the chief medical officer of health issues an order mandating the wearing of masks in Alberta, the mandatory requirement in the bylaw would automatically reactivate,” read the report presented to council on Tuesday.

“This recommendation is supported by the Edmonton zone medical officer of health, and aligns with the provincial reopening plan put forward by the chief medical officer of health.”

In his presentation to council, city manager Andre Corbould cited several factors for the recommendation, including the significant decline in active COVID-19 cases in Edmonton.

Corbould said active cases of COVID-19 have dropped from over 6,000 in early May to about 350 cases over the weekend — which is the lowest active case count the city has seen since last June.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 219 active cases in Edmonton specifically.

Corbould also cited the city’s R value, which has dropped to 0.57, and decreasing hospitalizations and ICU admissions. There are currently 53 people in hospital with COVID-19 in Edmonton, 18 of whom are being treated in ICU, Corbould presented.

The city manager also said vaccination rates are increasing in the city, with nearly 73 per cent of eligible Edmontonians having received one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and nearly 30 per cent fully immunized.

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Read more: Alberta doctors ask Iveson, Nenshi to keep mask bylaw until 70% have 2 doses

The first and second reading of the motion to deactivate the bylaw on July 1 passed by votes of 7-6. However, Coun. Aaron Paquette voted against consideration of third reading, pushing the discussion to the next council meeting.

Mayor Don Iveson said such a vote against consideration of third reading is rare, “but it’s not out of bounds.”

“It’s not unheard of for a member of council who wishes to allow for sober second thought,” he said, adding that personally, he wants to get clarity and “resolve the issue” as soon as possible. “Votes can change. There’s still more debate to be had on Friday.

“All the different perspectives got on the table (today) and that happened in public, and I love that about our system.”

A unanimous vote is required to consider third reading in one day. This would have meant that the mandatory mask bylaw will remain in place in Edmonton until at least July 5, when council was next supposed to meet. However, a special council meeting was called for Friday in an attempt to avoid putting off a decision until July 5.

Councillors were presented with three additional options, one of which would have seen the mask bylaw come to an end in Edmonton once 50 per cent of the eligible population in the Edmonton zone was fully vaccinated with two doses.

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The second option would have fully repealed the bylaw when Alberta enters Stage 3, meaning council would have to pass a new bylaw in the event COVID-19 conditions changed.

The third option would have seen no changes and kept the mask coverings bylaw in place until Dec. 31, with the option for council to review at any time.

Edmonton’s mandatory face coverings bylaw came into effect on Aug. 1, 2020 and requires people to wear masks or face coverings in all indoor public spaces and on public vehicles, such as the LRT, buses and vehicles for hire. The current city bylaw was set to be in effect until Dec. 31, 2021.

Read more: Coronavirus: Edmonton extends mandatory mask bylaw until December 2021

In December 2020, the Alberta government made masks mandatory provincewide.

As Alberta moves into Stage 3 of its Open for Summer plan on July 1, the provincial mask mandate will come to an end, apart from in some specific settings.

Click to play video: 'Isolation requirements, continuing care centre precautions and masking at acute care centres will remain: Hinshaw' Isolation requirements, continuing care centre precautions and masking at acute care centres will remain: Hinshaw
Isolation requirements, continuing care centre precautions and masking at acute care centres will remain: Hinshaw – Jun 22, 2021

On Tuesday afternoon, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said masks will still be required in continuing care and acute care settings.

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“We are in discussions with regulated health professionals about the precautions that will continue to be prudent in community health settings as well, particularly until everybody has had the opportunity to receive a second dose of vaccine,” Hinshaw said.

In addition, masking will still be required on public transit, in taxis and in ride-sharing vehicles until further notice, “given the closed indoor environment of these spaces and to protect those who have not been able to be fully vaccinated yet,” Hinshaw said.

“Masking remains a very reasonable choice for people to make and it’s going to be really important as we move forward into Stage 3 for people to give each other the space that they need to navigate how they want to manage those risks,” she continued.

Read more: Masking still required in some circumstances once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted: Hinshaw

Even once the province drops its mandatory mask order, municipalities still have the authority to issue their own mandates on face coverings.

Calgary city council debated its mask bylaw on Monday. Councillors voted 8-6 in favour of reassessing the bylaw on July 5 after receiving an update on COVID-19 hospitalizations, case counts and vaccination rates.

Read more: COVID-19: City council to reconvene July 5 to discuss repealing Calgary mask bylaw

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Pending that data, the bylaw in Calgary could be lifted on July 5 or soon after.

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