As cases of COVID-19 climbed to 94 in Red Deer on Monday, city council voted to hold a special meeting to discuss taking “stronger health measures” — including a possible mask bylaw.
That discussion will be held on Monday, Nov. 16, with city administration’s recommendation on how to proceed to be posted on the city’s website this Friday.
City manager Allan Seabrooke said four people with COVID-19 are now being treated at Red Deer hospital, with none in ICU, so the coronavirus pandemic is not yet overloading the local health-care system.
“We cannot stop COVID-19, but we can try to manage it,” Seabrooke said.
Although the city was put under a watch order on Friday by Alberta Health Services — which means all informal social gatherings have been reduced to 15 people — he suggested there’s still time to get additional facts and data about the efficacy of certain additional health measures from Alberta Health Services.
As the provincial government is leaving the mask decision up to municipalities,“we have a responsibility to do what’s best for Red Deer,” Seabrooke added.
To make an informed decision, he feels the city needs to hear from experts, as well as the public about priorities and concerns.
Coun. Ken Johnston is disturbed that what used to be a handful of local viral cases has burgeoned: “We’ve seen a 30-fold increase in six weeks… so it’s critical that we get our arms around this,” he said.
”It could be 104 cases tomorrow or 115 cases…”
Several councillors commended Coun. Dianne Wyntjes for speaking out to the Advocate last week about the need to revisit the discussion about how to better contain the virus — including whether to make masks mandatory in all indoor public spaces.
Wyntjes agreed to delay the debate to next week to allow Seabrooke to provide council with more information about scientifically proven deterrents.
“I don’t want to see a divided community,” she said, “we need a Red Deer that comes together to support each other.”
But while a new vaccine could be available as early as next spring, she added, “there will be no change in the immediate future,” and the long winter months will provide the right environment for additional viral spread.
Since Wyntjes spoke to the media last week, hundreds of emails have been arriving to city council on the pros and cons of mask wearing.
Coun. Lawrence Lee said some were sent from as far as Ponoka and Airdrie, even though a local bylaw would ultimately be a City of Red Deer decision.
Coun. Michael Dawe wants to enlighten the public with “credible” facts to quash urban myths. These include stories of people supposedly receiving positive test results in the mail, he said, despite never being tested for COVID-19.
There are also stories of death certificates being supposedly changed at Red Deer hospital to make the virus the cause of a person’s demise, instead of a heart attack or other condition.
Dawe urged Red Deerians to question information that isn’t commonsensical: When no deaths from COVID-19 have so far been reported at Red Deer hospital, how could death certificates be supposedly changed, he said.
Council noted Red Deer is a regional hub for shopping and health care — which means the hospital serves an area of 200,000 to 400,000 people.
It’s not just a case of how many COVID-19 cases there are in the city, but how many are in surrounding communities, said Coun. Buck Buchanan, who raised concern about a patchwork of different protocols being posted in various businesses, as well as municipalities.
Mayor Tara Veer knows of a wedding party that moved its weekend reception from the city to a facility in Red Deer County in order to remain “legal,” and comply with new gathering sizes.
Veer looks forward to getting more fact-based information from Seabrooke that “responds to science…. We need an elevated response to flatten the curve.”