A group of specialists in respiratory and critical care were critical in influencing Lethbridge city council's decision to repeal its mandatory mask bylaw.
Drs. Eric Wilde, P.L. Oviatt, Josh Henkelman, and Kurt Olson wrote a letter to city council on June 21 advocating that the city align its health restrictions with the provincial mandate. The experts called upon city council to reconsider their recent vote to extend masking requirements until December of 2021.
"The current decision by Lethbridge City council regarding ongoing masking is not reflecting the current status of the pandemic within our province or city, medically speaking," the physicians wrote. On Thursday, Alberta removed its provincial face mask requirement, among most of the public health restrictions.
Lethbridge's bylaw came into effect in August of 2020, before the province introduced its mandate last December. The bylaw was expected to remain in place until December of 2021.
The specialists said current evidence points to a "great downturn" in the number of cases and positivity rate for COVID-19 infections.
"Bolstered by an increased number of individuals vaccinated and declining case numbers, provincial Health leadership has seen it as a reasonable intervention to allow more broad opening as of early July 2021," said the letter.
Lethbridge Now reports that Chinook Regional Hospital had five or fewer COVID-19 patients at any one time:
"Well over one year of preparation and planning has gone into the response plan, should further waves emerge. With this in hand, we are surprised at the local resistance to embrace provincial-led initiatives for reopening. Clinically speaking, we rely on hard data to inform our decision-making processes."
"Safe reopening and protection of vulnerable individuals through more limited interventions than what is proposed by our city council are both made possible via the vaccination efforts already in place."
The letter can be read in full here.
Earlier this month, council voted against removing the Temporary Mandatory Face Covering Bylaw (Bylaw 6239) to align with Stage 3 and the lifting of the provincial mask mandates. However, Lethbridge city council repealed Bylaw 6239 on Tuesday after conducting the chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw and medical leadership. This included a clause to renew the bylaw should COVID-19 numbers reach concerning levels.
Global News reports that council also consulted local physicians who were among the signatories of the letter. Dr. Wilde advocated the "cautious" approach pushed by the province and urged the "little pockets of resistance" to unify.
Businesses can still enforce in-store mask policies, but the city council asks residents to respect wearing masks as a personal choice.
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