A mandatory mask-wearing bylaw for Red Deerians who ride on public transit buses was approved by city council on Monday.
But city councillors — who received more than 200 emails and phone calls on the “divisive” issue” — chose not to make any decision on whether mask-wearing should be mandated in other public places.
Council instead tabled this portion of the proposed bylaw. It will be discussed again only if local COVID-19 cases dramatically escalate, or if the city gets this direction from Alberta’s chief medical officer of health.
So far, Alberta’s government has been largely silent whether masks should be made mandatory in public indoor spaces, leaving this decision up to the province’s 352 municipalities. This was criticized by city councillors, who wanted more provincial direction.
Red Deer’s Mayor Tara Veer said the transit decision is much more straight-forward since physical distancing of two metres is impossible to maintain at certain times of day on crowded city buses.
As buses fall under the city’s jurisdiction and Alberta’s chief medical officer of health has recommending mask-wearing when appropriate distancing is not possible, it makes sense to make masks on buses mandatory as of Aug. 31, said Veer.
Coun. Lawrence Lee believes the unanimously approved masks-on-buses bylaw also “meshes nicely with the provincial mandate for masks for Grade 4 to 12 students.” He noted 1,300 mostly high school students a day ride city buses to classes in the city.
As of the last day of this month, wearing masks is a must for all transit users older than 10.
Exceptions will be made for people who are struggling with phobias about covering their mouths and noses, or who have physical disabilities that make face-coverings impossible. It has not yet been determined whether a medical letter would be needed, or or just a personal statement would be enough for an exemption, noted city manager, Allan Seabrooke.
Those who simply refuse to wear a mask will face fines of $50.
The City of Red Deer’s administration had also recommended a mandatory face mask bylaw for all indoor public spaces if the number of COVID-19 cases rises to 25 or more per 100,000 people.
So far the most active cases that Red Deer has ever had is 14.
Coun. Dianne Wyntjes called for a safety-first, common sense approach, saying “the virus likes cold weather and crowds and this is preparing for what is coming ahead.”
Coun. Ken Johnston argued that mandatory mask wearing could help keep cases down when COVID-cases begin to climb this fall and winter, and protect those in high risk groups — such as Coun. Frank Wong, who has chronic lung disease.
Coun. Tanya Handley first tried to raise the number referred to in the bylaw to 50 active cases in the city. But she later sided with her colleagues Vesna Higham and Buck Buchanan who stated they could not support any kind of mandatory mask in public spaces bylaw.
Some reasons given were the lack of testing done on the efficacy of masks and because most Red Deerians are already so good about voluntarily wearing them.
Seabrooke said Red Deer has, so far, had among the lowest viral cases in the province. He credited Red Deerians for following public safety guidelines, including wearing masks whenever maintaining a space of two metres between people is not possible.
When Buchanan asked how mask-wearing on public transit would be enforced if a passenger absolutely refuses to wear a face-covering, Seabrooke said that will also have to be determined.