St. Albert is fast-tracking the process of looking into whether the city should reinstate a mask mandate, council heard Monday.
At the end of council’s public meeting, Mayor Cathy Heron asked city administration to look into bringing Alberta Health Services (AHS) staff to council in advance of a scheduled Sept. 13 meeting where Dr. Chris Sikora was slated to brief council. Heron alerted councillors that she might call a special council meeting to attend to the decision on masks and other health regulations.
Heron’s request came on the heels of an Edmonton city council decision to reinstate a mask mandate for Sept. 3.
“The City of Edmonton had health experts in the room when they made their decision, and I think we need that expertise before we jump to any decision ourselves,” Heron said.
According to the province’s online regional cases data, St. Albert currently has 115 active COVID-19 cases.
“I don’t know how ill these people are, or if they’re in the Intensive Care Unit,” Heron said.
Kevin Scoble, St. Albert’s chief administrative officer, said administration would start inquiries “right away.”
In an email to The Gazette on Tuesday, city spokesperson Cory Sinclair said administration is in the process of looking into getting a briefing from a health expert.
"In the meantime, we will continue to closely monitor the ongoing situation with the COVID-19 pandemic, including actions other regional municipalities are taking,” Sinclair said.
Councillors weigh in
On June 8, St. Albert city council voted unanimously to defer to the province, which lifted its mask mandate on July 1.
Coun. Wes Brodhead said on Monday he was disappointed to see municipalities having to make decisions on masking at this point in the pandemic.
“In the absence of leadership, someone has to step forward,” Brodhead said.
After council hears from AHS, Brodhead said he hopes they will make a “wise choice” for the community going forward.
“Sometimes, the reality we’re faced with and our heart's desire don’t match up,” Brodhead said. “As a council and as a community, we will craft a response with enough hope, and enough strength in it to protect the young and the vulnerable.”
Similarly, Coun. Natalie Joly said on Monday seeking health expertise will give St. Albert a better picture of what needs to be done to prevent the spread of COVID-19, noting she was “incredibly relived” to hear her children’s school will be requiring masking.
“I understand people hate wearing masks,” Joly said. “I personally don't like how they feel, and how we can't see each other smile in the same way, but if they're going to help protect vulnerable people in our community, then that's something I will absolutely do.”
Coun. Ken MacKay said he will listen to the recommendations and evidence when they come before council.
“I will make a determination then, but I would prefer not to go backwards because I think it creates logistical challenges for retail,” MacKay said.
Like Brodhead, MacKay said and he would prefer if the province mandated masks instead of a “hodgepodge between all the different municipalities.”
“With that in mind, if masks are the solution to avoid the repeat of a lockdown, then I’ll support it,” MacKay said. “But if we can do it another way, I would prefer that.”
Coun. Jacquie Hansen said advocating to the province will be necessary going forward.
“We need to do it sooner than later because the Delta variant is obviously on the upswing,” Hansen said.
Hansen added she wants council to take a "reasonable, level-headed approach" to instating new health measures, and that St. Albert will “work with our regional partners where we can."
Coun. Sheena Hughes and Coun. Ray Watkins could not be reached at the time of publication.