By this time next week, you might have to wear a mask on public transit and in city-owned facilities around St. Albert.
The debate over mandatory masks in Alberta has finally reached our local council table. On Monday, councillors voted 5-1 (Coun. Sheena Hughes opposed, Coun. Ken MacKay absent) to have staff draw up a bylaw outlining mandatory mask-wearing in areas of the city.
The bylaw, which will come back to council Aug. 4, will cover city facilities and public transit, while exemptions would likely be permitted for vulnerable people and residents who cannot wear masks.
There are currently four people confirmed to have COVID-19 in St. Albert. The city has so far seen 41 confirmed cases, and tragically one person has died. Case counts, according to provincial statistics, appear to be on the rise – not just in St. Albert, but across Alberta. As we move toward a fully reopened economy, and as school starts up again at the end of August, those numbers will undoubtedly increase at a more rapid rate.
"As we see in the case numbers, the curve is no longer flat in Alberta," said Alberta's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, on Monday as she announced 304 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend and eight more deaths.
Last week, we called for common sense to prevail. Pragmatic hygiene routines, from voluntarily wearing masks in public to regular hand-washing and physical distancing, could have helped us avoid the need for legislators to step in. But to quote an old cliche, common sense isn't all that common. Observe virtually any public space in St. Albert and you can witness people not keeping their distance, not following the rules and signs, and not wearing masks.
The consequences of not taking every precaution to curb the spread are unfathomable. Another hard shutdown of the economy would be even more catastrophic than what we’ve already experienced. It’s incumbent on all of us to do our part, and perhaps it takes legislation to emphasize necessary changes in behavior.
There are those who flout this responsibility, with some going to the extreme of berating businesses for insisting that customers use provided hand sanitizer before entering and practise physical distancing. It is possible the proposed bylaw will include private businesses following consultation with the St. Albert Chamber of Commerce. We suspect the business community will be fully supportive of such a move, as the rules would be clearly defined for both businesses and the public and fit within the regional context.
One by one, municipalities across the province are getting on board with their own COVID-19 bylaws. This reinforces what Alberta Health has been telling us for the last four-plus months – the virus can be easily contracted and it can be lethal. These bylaws may well serve as a tipping point to help change social behaviours and cultural mores.