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Calgary committee to address COVID-19 after council candidates back mask bylaw, vaccine mandate

Click to play video: 'Calls grow louder for Calgary city council to take action amid rising COVID-19 cases' Calls grow louder for Calgary city council to take action amid rising COVID-19 cases
WATCH: A coalition of council candidates, led by mayoral candidate Jan Damery, has joined the call for city council to take action amid a surge in COVID-19 cases. Adam MacVicar reports. – Aug 30, 2021

A coalition of city council hopefuls are getting behind a mayoral candidate’s plan to respond to escalating COVID-19 numbers.

On Tuesday, Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra called a meeting of the city’s emergency management committee for Friday afternoon to address the fourth wave of the pandemic.

“In consultation with the mayor and city administration, given the current situation surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we feel that it is prudent to have an important conversation with council and the city on what options should be considered for the safety of Calgarians,” Carra wrote to his fellow councillors.

Read more: ‘I never hoped for cases to go up’: Lethbridge MLA addresses backlash over COVID-19 comments

The COVID-19 pandemic has been the main topic of emergency management committee meetings since March 11, 2020.

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“Our amazing emergency management committee and the provincial act that empowers it has proven to be actually weak sauce when it comes to a public health emergency, and our ability to do things is very limited without tremendous support from the province,” Carra said Tuesday. “And as we’ve all noticed, the province is remarkably absent from this conversation right now.

“Without the province around the table actively driving (a response), we’re much more limited, unfortunately.”

Carra said the committee will discuss possibly reintroducing a mask bylaw and how to get more Calgarians and city employees vaccinated.

“Hopefully, we can get some consensus around the council table in the face of the facts.”

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A supporter of reintroducing the mask bylaw, Carra said part of Friday’s meeting will include consultation from experts, as city council has done previously.

“We saw the masks did a tremendous amount of good in terms of flattening waves earlier in this pandemic, and we’re dealing with a more virulent form,” the Ward 9 representative said. “We’re going to hear from the experts as to whether we expect masks to have a similar efficacy.”

Candidates back similar plan

The plan presented on Monday and championed by mayoral candidate Jan Damery would reinstate a mask bylaw in all indoor public spaces in the city, including gyms, restaurants and bars. Fully vaccinated individuals would be exempt from wearing masks indoors.

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“If the province won’t act, I will,” Damery said in a statement. “Right now, we need to secure our recovery and prevent another lockdown. That means taking decisive action to increase vaccine uptake and protect people from the fourth wave without closing businesses.”

Damery underscored the importance of more public health measures as children who are ineligible to be vaccinated return to school in the coming days.

“We know that school transmission will be reduced if we reduce community transmission, and there are things that we can do that we know in these previous three waves of COVID that actually work,” Damery said.

Damery was joined outside Calgary City Hall Monday morning by ward candidates Kourtney Branagan, Lori Masse, Marilyn North Peigan, Erin Waite and Courtney Walcott, who all endorsed Damery’s plan.

Read more: ‘Legally defensible’: Calgary councillors join call to enact public health measures

Perennial fringe mayoral candidate Larry Heather could be heard shouting anti-vaccine and anti-mask rhetoric using a megaphone from a nearby sidewalk.

A former manager of a non-profit disability services organization, Ward 7 candidate Erin Waite, spoke to the constant disruption of work done by the social services sector.

“The importance of the consistency of message and clear messages, and not on-again off-again measures is absolutely crucial to keep Calgarians safe as employees so they can go to work and to provide services to any customer- or client-facing role,” Waite said.

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Ward 8 candidate Courtney Walcott, a high school teacher by trade, said the pandemic has directly affected children and teens in the city and province.

“It’s when community transition was at its highest when we had to end up going into lockdown at the school level, when our systems fell apart,” Walcott said. “And that’s what truly impacted our children.

“I, personally, have taught through three separate lockdowns at our schools and we don’t need to have them if the rest of us will do our job.”

Damery also took aim at sitting councillors, saying they are complicit with the provincial government in their inaction.

“This is creating huge uncertainty for our citizens and lots of fear. And fear impacts the ability to stay open and to recover our economy.”

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Putting the pandemic on the agenda

Early Monday afternoon, Ward 3 councillor and mayoral candidate Jyoti Gondek tweeted she has requested that the city’s pandemic response of late be added to a Sep. 7 meeting of the city’s priorities and finance committee.

“If we can’t get a special meeting, this might work instead,” Gondek wrote.

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Friday’s emergency management committee meeting could produce a recommendation for city council to consider on Sep. 13 — the final meeting of their term.

Gondek, Carra and outgoing Ward 7 Coun. Druh Farrell have all taken to social media in the past month, calling for the city’s mask bylaw to be reinstated.

Monday afternoon, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said his office is carefully monitoring the fourth wave of the pandemic.

“The tools that the city has are unfortunately quite limited in the absence of the province taking a stand in what I would call a dereliction of duty on the part of the province,” Nenshi said. “They’ve left the school boards and the municipalities to be on their own, and that is very challenging.”

Nenshi said he wasn’t interested in having a discussion in chambers that didn’t result in a change to policy, adding he is looking at “every possible option to make sure that citizens and council members are fully informed as we go forward.”

Read more: ‘I never hoped for cases to go up’: Lethbridge MLA addresses backlash over COVID-19 comments

In a statement to Global News, Ward 6 councillor and mayoral candidate Jeff Davison stressed the importance of vaccination but was not in favour of a council meeting “on an initiative that cannot be adequately enforced in Calgary.”

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“What I have learned as a city representative is that my efforts right now need to be focused on talking with the province as they need to lead on this issue,” Davison said in the statement.

On Friday, outgoing Ward 12 Coun. Shane Keating joined a growing group of existing councillors calling for a special meeting of council to receive an update on COVID-19 numbers in the city and to explore further public health measures like a mask bylaw or vaccine mandate for city employees.

Ward 5 councillor and federal candidate in Calgary Skyview George Chahal, who voted to keep the city’s mask bylaw in place during the July 5 city council meeting, expressed his disagreement with the provincial response when hospitalizations and case numbers are increasing.

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“Albertans deserve leaders who will fight for them, and not run away when times are tough,” Chahal tweeted.

Read more: AHS transferring patients out of Grande Prairie hospital to free space for COVID-19 care

As of Aug. 27, the City of Calgary had 2,112 active COVID-19 cases and the broader AHS Calgary zone had 2,838 active cases. Only the City of Edmonton and Edmonton zone had more cases.

In the Calgary zone, 101 people were hospitalized as of Aug. 27, with 20 in intensive care.

And according to data from AHS, only 65.2 per cent of all Calgarians have been fully vaccinated.

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