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Morinville says no to mandatory masks

Province, not town, should order it, say councillors
2908 MorinMask 1349 km
NO TO MASKS — Morinville town council voted down second reading of a mandatory mask bylaw Sept. 22. The decision means masks will not be required in public places. KEVIN MA/St. Albert Gazette

Morinville town council has struck down an attempt to make face masks mandatory in public.

Morinville councillors voted 3-4 against second reading of a proposed mandatory face covering bylaw Sept. 22 after extensive debate. Mayor Barry Turner and councillors Nicole Boutestein and Lawrence Giffin were in favour, while councillors Rebecca Balanko, Stephen Dafoe, Sarah Hall and Scott Richardson were opposed.

Beaumont, Edmonton, Fort Saskatchewan, the City of Leduc, St. Albert, Strathcona County, Spruce Grove, Stony Plain and Sturgeon County have implemented mandatory mask laws to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Devon, Bon Accord, Gibbons, Legal, Redwater and the counties of Leduc and Parkland do not have such laws, although Redwater does have a “Derrick Dollars” mask promotion campaign.

In an interview, Mayor Barry Turner said this mish-mash of mask standards shows why the province has to provide leadership on masks. He plans to call for such leadership at the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association convention on Sept. 24 and 25.

“The province is responsible for public health,” he said, and needs to step up.

Mask debate

Morinville’s proposed law was very similar to the ones passed by St. Albert and Sturgeon County. It featured exemptions, a $100 minimum fine, and an on/off switch: it would have turned on whenever the town had a least 10 active COVID-19 cases (which would land the town on Alberta Health Services’ COVID-19 watch list) and turned off when it spent 14 consecutive days with less than 10 cases.

Dafoe said Morinville was following the lead of AHS when it came to COVID-19, and AHS has yet to make masks mandatory. He also said he has seen widespread mask use and physical distancing in town, and that certain stores, such as No Frills, require face masks. While the town should strongly encourage public mask use, he opposed making it mandatory, saying the town did not have the ability to enforce it.

Balanko agreed, and said, “Until this is pushed from Alberta Health Services, politicians shouldn’t be enacting these (laws).”

Hall estimated a third of the students at the school her kids attended were at home sick despite mandatory mask requirements.

“Why do we have the authority to mandate masks when the schools prove they are not working?” she asked.

Asked in an interview to explain how she reached this conclusion, Hall said seasonal colds are still being spread in schools despite students being required to wear masks. (The province requires all staff and Grade 4 to 12 students to wear masks whenever physical distancing cannot be maintained.)

“The masking in schools isn’t working because germs are still being spread,” Hall said.

While she acknowledged masks could slow, but not stop, the spread of COVID-19, she said, “It feels not right to make people wear a mask when it possibly couldn’t work.”

A June 2020 study published in The Lancet, billed as the most comprehensive study of the subject to date, found that a person’s risk of getting or transmitting COVID-19 and similar viruses is about three per cent if they wear a mask and 17 per cent if they do not – a roughly 80-per-cent reduction. The study noted this result was based on low-certainty evidence, and masks alone would not prevent transmission.

Turner said the town had prepared for a potential second wave of COVID-19. A mask mandate might be tough to enforce, but that is true for many bylaws.

“If we do have a bylaw mandating face coverings, we will have more people wearing masks as a result and therefore help reduce the spread,” he said.

Boutestein backed the bylaw, noting many area communities have mask mandates.

“For now, this is the safest way to keep our community (safe),” she said.

Giffin acknowledged that people might resent being told to wear a mask, but backed the bylaw nonetheless.

“I would feel terrible if someone died in Morinville due to COVID and we didn’t have a bylaw.”

AHS reported one active case of COVID-19 in Morinville as of Sept. 23.

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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