As COVID-19 cases continue to surge amid the pandemic’s fourth wave in Alberta, Strathcona County council voted Wednesday to require people to wear masks in indoor public spaces beginning later this month.
The bylaw was approved by council in an 8-1 vote Wednesday afternoon and will take effect on Sept. 10.
Citizens will be required to wear masks in all indoor public areas as well as in vehicles, including rideshares, taxis, grocery stores, shops, places of worship and at county facilities.
The development came on the same day that Alberta Health announced it had identified 1,315 new cases of COVID-19 over the past 24 hours — the highest one-day total since mid-May.
Hospitalizations related to COVID-19 also continue to rise in Alberta. Last week, Alberta Health Services announced pressure on the health-care system had prompted it to postpone some non-urgent surgeries in the Edmonton zone and North zone.
According to the Alberta government’s website, Strathcona County, a municipality east of Edmonton, had 284 active COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday afternoon.
In a video conference call after the vote, the mayor of Strathcona County said that “even if you’re double-vaccinated, it’s still a reasonable step to wear a mask.”
“So that was the decision that was made today: masks are in,” Rod Frank said.
He added that while the decision to bring back public health restrictions was a difficult one, it was a necessary step amid the current situation.
“We have to make the best decisions that we can for Strathcona County and all of its citizens, not just a select few.”
Frank said he is also considering the benefits of implementing a vaccine passport locally.
“I think it’s something we have to seriously look at,” he said. “Because masking is a way of masking the problem, it’s not the ultimate solution — that’s the current science.
“The current science is ‘get vaccinated.'”
Kevin Zahara, the mayor of Edson, posted on social media on Wednesday that town council will hold a special meeting on Thursday to discuss whether to make it mandatory to wear masks indoors.
Earlier this week, Zahara posted on Facebook that Edson’s “local hospital and ER have been slammed with COVID patients in recent days.”
“All acute care beds are taken,” his post read. “Forty per cent of them have COVID patients under the age of 55. Our health-care professionals are doing everything they can to ensure people continue to receive the care they need.
“This is not a joke, this is real. Our local health-care system, like the provincial system, is strained at the moment.”
The City of Edmonton is bringing back a mask requirement that takes effect on Friday.
With Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Premier Jason Kenney not speaking publicly for weeks, a number of Alberta doctors and academics have begun holding news conferences in an attempt to fill the void.
Conor Ruzycki, a PhD candidate focused on aerosol science and technology, said even fully vaccinated people can have COVID-19 while being asymptomatic, adding to the coronavirus’ spread.
He said that when indoors with others, people should “continue masking at all times.”
“Just because you’re two metres away from somebody else does not mean you are safe from inhaling aerosol emitted by those people,” he said. “We should really probably start to begin evaluating ventilation in the different sorts of spaces that we’re spending a lot of our time in.”
Watch below: Some recent Global News videos about the COVID-19 situation in Alberta.