When the province enters Stage 3 of Alberta’s Open for Summer Plan on Canada Day, Lethbridge’s mandatory mask bylaw will no longer be in effect.
City council voted unanimously at Tuesday’s meeting to repeal Temporary Mandatory Face Coverings Bylaw 6239 as the province eases COVID-19 restrictions on July 1.
Coun. Ryan Parker, who co-sponsored Tuesday’s motion alongside Coun. Blaine Hyggen, said he felt it was crucial that the city align its rules with Alberta Health.
“I think we would have created a lot of confusion if our existing bylaw would have stayed in place — which was technically until the end of the year,” Parker said.
The Municipal Government Act requires that bylaws are repealed by way of another bylaw. In order to pass on Tuesday, the repealing bylaw required a unanimous vote.
“The only time that we would have been able to revisit it — if it wouldn’t have been unanimous — would have been our July 13 meeting, which would have been 13 days of chaos,” Parker said.
Council’s decision on Tuesday followed discussion and questions to medical experts, including a pair of local physicians who were among four Lethbridge doctors that submitted a letter to the city.
Dr. Eric Wilde said they chose to speak up in favour of Lethbridge aligning its mandate with the province after Hyggen’s motion to repeal was defeated two weeks ago.
“I just felt that was the wrong decision,” Wilde said.
“I think the province is being very cautious with it and I think we should be more united with the way we approach this, instead of little pockets of resistance here and there throughout the province.”
Wilde and Dr. Mila Luchak — from the medical office of health for Alberta Health Services’ South zone — both praised vaccine uptake in Lethbridge.
Mayor Chris Spearman said now, instead of focusing on masks, the messaging from council will surround getting the jab.
“It’s important that people become fully vaccinated, that we raise our herd immunity levels to higher than what they are,” he said.
Lethbridge’s bylaw came into effect last August, before the province’s mask requirement came into effect in December of 2020.
The repeal bylaw passed Tuesday includes a clause giving the city the ability to bring back a mandatory mask bylaw at a later date “if COVID-19 numbers surpass a level of concern as advised by local health authorities.”
Businesses will still have the option to require masks if they so choose, and members of council hope people are respectful as residents navigate masks as a personal choice.
“I would ask that people not be aggressive,” Spearman said. “We’ve heard about incidents in various businesses right here in the city of Lethbridge where people became aggressive to the business owners that tried to enforce mask-wearing.”
“I’m encouraging people, if they need to wear a mask, feel free. I don’t want people to be shamed when they’re not wearing a mask or if they are wearing a mask,” Parker said.
When the province enters Stage 3 on Thursday, masks will still be required in certain higher-risk settings, including acute and continuing care centres, while on public transit and in taxis or rideshare cars.