Mask wearing has been largely voluntary in Red Deer, but city council will hold a special meeting Monday to discuss widening its bylaw, among other measures aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19. File photo by Advocate staff

Masks will be a hot topic for city council

Hundreds have urged city not to bring in mandatory mask rules

The City of Red Deer has been flooded with hundreds of emails on the divisive issue of a mandatory mask bylaw.

City manager Allan Seabrooke believes this is one of the biggest unsolicited responses the city has had on any topic.

Most of the 600, or so, correspondences sent to influence Monday’s discussion by city council on pandemic measures are against implementing a mandatory mask bylaw for indoor public places, said Seabrooke.

He said city administration intends to stick to what it’s been saying all along — that the municipality should continue to follow the advice of Alberta Health and provincial experts.

“That isn’t going to change,” said Seabrooke, although he noted other new measures will be recommended Monday.

On Thursday, the province brought in sweeping new temporary health measures to reduce the infection rate in and around most of the province’s larger centres, including Red Deer.

Curfews were imposed on bars, lounges and restaurants, and a two-week ban introduced on indoor fitness classes, team sports activities and group performance activities.

Red Deer’s city manager believes those who focus solely on masks aren’t seeing the entire picture.

While Seabrooke told council he will consult with health experts on the “science” of masking, anyone seeking solid evidence won’t find it on Alberta Health’s website.

The provincial government states mask wearing is encouraged in public places if Albertans “have a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.”

Wearing a non-medical mask “is another tool to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” states the Alberta Health website.

“It hasn’t been proven that masks protect the person wearing it, but it can help protect people from being exposed to your germs.”

This last sentence is out of date, since many health experts now believe masks protect the wearer, as well, from at least some coronavirus germs.

By comparison, Alberta Health Services goes beyond simply encouraging mask use — mandating them in all of its facilities.

While Alberta Health’s statements on masks are less emphatic, they come from chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

“I think it’s the best advice we have,” said Seabrooke, since “we don’t employ health experts.”

Red Deer Coun. Dianne Wyntjes spurred Monday’s special council meeting on extra pandemic protocols when she stated last week that the city should be discussing making masks mandatory in indoor public spaces.

Wyntjes supports a mandatory masking bylaw and is alarmed that local COVID-19 cases had risen to 94 last Monday, compared to 63 last week.

Of the emails received so far from across the city and province, Wyntjes said the data is diverse and from both sides of the issue.

Some people have strong opinions, but don’t indicate whether they live in Red Deer, she added. “If they are not citizens, they could be speaking to their own municipalities.”

Wyntjes noted some emails contain the same cut-and-paste text, indicating that groups are campaigning by urging members to write in.

“Some of the data is quite old,” or stems from questionable sources, she said, while others have provided links to the New England Journal of Medicine and other credible publications.

The divide lies between people who believe in individual rights and those who are championing societal rights.

The city manager believes pandemic fears are fanning people’s emotions about many things, including how serious the illness is, how disruptive prevention protocols should be, the economic impact caused by shutdowns, the rising deficit, etc.

“This is a difficult time for everybody because of COVID.”

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