Coun. Dianne Wyntjes wants council to have another discussion about making masks mandatory in all indoor public spaces, now that local viral cases have risen to 62. (Black Press file photo).

Coun. Dianne Wyntjes wants council to have another discussion about making masks mandatory in all indoor public spaces, now that local viral cases have risen to 62. (Black Press file photo).

Red Deer city councillor says it’s time to revisit mandatory masks

Coun. Dianne Wyntjes says, “If not now then when?’

Now that Red Deer’s COVID-19 cases are at 63, Coun. Dianne Wyntjes wants council to discuss a mandatory mask bylaw.

A frustrated Wyntjes can’t believe this matter isn’t on next week’s city council agenda.

Wyntjes pledged to bring the matter up anyway at Monday’s meeting so council can have another discussion about making masks mandatory in all indoor public spaces.

She believes council had pledged to bring the matter back to the table once local COVID-19 cases hit 50 at a previous discussion earlier this fall.

But city manager Allan Seabrooke said no specific number of cases were ever attached to a council resolution — instead, council resolved to wait for Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, to make a recommendation.

While Red Deer was recently put on a health “watch” by the province because of rising local cases, Seabrooke said Hinshaw hasn’t yet ordered any special restrictions for Red Deer.

Wyntjes doesn’t want to wait until cases get so high that the province has to order lower gathering sizes.

She believes it’s time to discuss a mask bylaw: “If not now, then when? When cases hit 75? When they hit 100?”

The UCP government is leaving it up to municipalities to decide. But Seabrooke said it’s difficult to contemplate enacting a bylaw that would be so difficult to enforce.

He noted many businesses have set their own mask-wearing protocols and are in a better position to do this than the city.

While wearing masks has been found to reduce the spread of COVID-19, a mandatory mask bylaw is a hot potato for councillors, who received dozens of emails on both sides of the issue earlier this fall.

“I get that there are different perspectives on wearing masks,” said Wyntjes — but she sees this a “health care issue, so we don’t overwhelm the health care system…

“Red Deer Regional Hospital already has capacity issues,” she added. “This (could) put a strain on all the other patients who need the hospital” for non-coronavirus-related problems.

Wyntjes wants to support business owners, who don’t want any more restrictions or closures. Expecting retailers to ask patrons to wear masks puts a lot of pressure on staff to uphold these rules when some people get nasty, she added.

This week, the councillor’s been fielding a stream of questions about when the city is going to make masks mandatory. One woman said that she’s very worried about picking up the virus in the community and bringing it back to her husband, who has heart problems, recalled Wyntjes.

Calgary and Edmonton have been coping well under their mandatory mask bylaws for months now, she added. “It’s a small thing we could do to protect our health and the hospital and medical system.”

Seabrooke said he plans to give council an update on the local COVID-19 situation on Monday and what Alberta Health Services has said about it. He added it’s up to councillors whether they want to go on to discuss the mandatory mask bylaw.

Coun. Lawrence Lee said on Thursday he would support a bylaw — even though he thinks 62 cases out of a population of 100,000 is not overly alarming.

Lee believes most businesses favour a mandatory masks bylaw so they can keep viral cases down and keep operating during the pandemic.

Red Deer City Council