Calgary won’t be following provincial recommendations on the mandatory wearing of masks when all COVID-19 health restrictions are lifted in Alberta on July 1.
Alberta reached its Phase 3 goals earlier this month which required 70 per cent of the population receiving a first dose of vaccine and low hospitalization rates.
After a lengthy meeting Monday, city council eventually adopted an amended recommendation to keep the mandatory mask bylaw in place until July 5.
At that time the level of hospitalizations, infection rates, second-dose vaccinations and positivity rates will be considered to allow the bylaw to be repealed “as soon as possible” as long as it’s deemed to be safe.
The city administration had recommended the bylaw remain in place until July 31.
“I’m super optimistic. I want to get rid of this,” said Mayor Naheed Nenshi during debate.
“I always thought we wouldn’t be able to get rid of it until September. I’m convinced we’ll be able to get rid of it in July. The question is exactly when do we want to do that?”
The number of Calgarians who have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine is 75.6 percent which is above the provincial average, while more than 29 per cent are fully vaccinated.
“Although things have improved overall and the light is at the end of the tunnel and it’s getting closer every day, there are still some things that we need to be concerned about,” said Susan Henry, the chief of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency.
“In particular we’re watching the uncertainty around the Delta variant and the relatively low level of second-dose coverage we have in our community.”
Other recommendations on the table included repealing the bylaw when 75 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, waiting until the bylaw is due to expire in December or removing the temporary bylaw July 1.
Matt Zabloski, a business strategist with City of Calgary Community Standards, said medical experts across Canada and within Alberta provided varying estimates as to what is the most suitable number for the requirement for face coverings to be dropped.
He said the spectrum extends from the 70 per cent of first vaccinations announced by the Government of Alberta, to 75 per cent fully vaccinated from the Public Health Agency of Canada.
“The lack of consensus from medical experts on the appropriate metric for repeal, coupled with circumstances such as the city being the location of the majority of the Delta variant in Alberta and public opinion that is unique to Calgary provides solid rationale for a cautiously optimistic Made-in-Calgary approach,” Zabloski told council.
“It is a least-harm approach to an uncertain situation providing a public-health safeguard without limiting the economy.”
But Dr. Raj Bhardwaj, an urgent-care physician in Calgary, asked council to leave the mask bylaw in place saying it provides an additional layer of protection.
He said there are about 475,000 Calgarians, many of them under the age of 12, who are unable to be vaccinated.
“In 10 days practically all of the provincial measures that help to protect Calgarians are going to be turned off,” Bhardwaj said.
Bhardwaj wanted the bylaw remain in effect, at least until mid or late August when the impact of the Calgary Stampede will be evident. He said nobody wants to see a return to all the restrictions if there’s a spike in new cases and hospitalization rates grow.
“Please consider what it would mean to you to turn the mask bylaw back on again. We’ve misjudged this virus in the past. We’ve reacted less quickly than we could have.”
Earlier this month Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said he hoped the cities of Edmonton and Calgary would stay in lockstep with the province when it comes to eventually lifting mask restrictions tied to COVID-19.
Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson has indicated the city will employ an abundance of caution before the mask bylaw can be fully lifted.