If we can cure pickleball fever, surely, we can all wear masks

It swept through North America like a virus, infecting older adults mostly, but ocassionally, a child would catch the fever from grandma or grandpa.

The contagion spread from city to city so rapidly, that its name — until recently an unfamiliar word — was suddenly common in municipal documents from South Florida to central Alberta.

The weird word symbolizes a political battle between citizens. Some wanted protection from it, while others just wanted the freedom to enjoy themselves.

And so, Red Deer’s city council decided to take a proactive approach, to end the debates and protect those impacted by the fever: pickleball fever.

It’s an absurdly named tennis-adjacent sport invented by an eventual U.S. congressman and beloved by boomers.

In 2017, evangelical enthusiasm for the game was spreading through a population of older Albertans who now would be advised against gathering for a game, as an at-risk group. It was 2017 and we didn’t know how good we had it.

Now, three years later, we’re dealing not with an infestation of passionate racquet sport players, but a real pandemic that is ending lives and livelihoods.

And while the city’s emergency management co-ordinator is giving TV interviews about the proactive approach city departments and employees are taking (that’s great news), Mayor Tara Veer is taking a puzzlingly contradictory and reactive approach.

While Calgary, Edmonton and other Alberta municipalities are adopting mask bylaws, Veer says such a mandate is not needed here yet.

Red Deer resident Lori Curran wrote in a recent letter to the editor that Red Deer has low case numbers, and the “fact that the death rate is not rising, in spite of the increase in cases (in Alberta), is great news.”

Curran is right there. But when it comes to Curran’s incorrect claims about masks, the facts disagree.

Curran states mask wearing may be harmful for healthy members of the public, a statement that is not based in science, but in conspiracy theories.

Unless you have trouble breathing, are under two years old or can’t remove your mask without assistance, a mask isn’t going to hurt you.

This just isn’t an opinion — it’s the official, science-backed stance of the government of Canada and leading epidemiologists around the world.

The spread can reach us if we don’t do this. And if there is one thing the pickleball panic taught us, it’s that non-residents visiting Red Deer can change a situation rapidly.

In 2014, the Red Deer Pickleball Club did not meet the criteria for priority alignment, according to city documents.

But by 2016, the club was hosting large tournaments at the Pines Community Centre, and by 2017, the residential neighbourhood was overwhelmed with out-of-town traffic.

The resulting NIMBY eruption (combined with an incredible amount of pro-pickleball lobbying) convinced council to move forward with a proactive measure to get in front of pickleball fever.

And it paid off. Red Deer will host the national pickleball championships in August 2021 (because 2020 was cancelled) at the new courts near St. Joseph’s High School, far from the Pines and with a big parking lot for players from all over the nation.

Red Deer’s municipal politicians got in front of pickleball fever with more than a million dollars, so why can’t we get in front of COVID with a simple, no-cost mask bylaw?

Red Deerians do not want to live under threat of COVID-19 forever and the scientists are telling us that the best way to end the pandemic and save lives (and get the economy back up) is to wear masks — now.

Let’s just be proactive about this, because if we’re not, the pickleball championships could be cancelled next summer, too. Or worse, 2021 could be a memorial tournament for someone.

To concerned citizens, there is one more lesson to take from pickleball’s speedy evolution from non-priority to seven-figure priority: When the frenzy was at its peak, one city councillor said they’d received more constituent emails about pickleball than any other issue in their time in office.

Maybe it’s time for a real pandemic to take that title.

Heather Marcoux is a Red Deer resident.

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