While the Alberta government will remove most public health restrictions on Canada Day, their municipal counterparts believe more debate is needed despite rising vaccination rates.
On Monday, Calgary City Council voted to extend its mask mandate until at least July 5, with Edmonton set to debate its mandate later today. In a motion to repeal Calgary’s mask bylaw to align with the provincial reopening plan, councillors entered a 7-7 tie and lost the vote.
Calgary City Council said several factors would come into play before a decision is made. Hospitalizations, ICU numbers, case rates and complete vaccination rates will determine when to lift mandatory masking.
Until then, face coverings remain in effect in all indoor spaces and select vehicles, including taxis and public transit. Businesses will also continue to showcase signs informing people of the rules.
Failure to wear a face-covering where required can result in a penalty of $500 and failure to display prescribed signage can result in a fine of $200.
"We know that some people will find the removal of rules surrounding face coverings too soon, and for others, it cannot come soon enough," said Sue Henry, Chief of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency. "However, extending mandatory face coverings for an additional short period of time will ensure we have time to see more people get fully vaccinated and also allow us to monitor any impact of summer re-openings."
On Tuesday, municipal watchdog Save Calgary questioned the science behind the mask mandate as the province's data indicates new cases are dropping dramatically. There were only 60 new cases of COVID-19 province-wide yesterday.
"The City's administration recommended an end to the mask bylaw on July 31st - a date they seem to have chosen more or less at random," they said. "Officially, the City's mask bylaw remains on the books until December 2021."
The City informed Calgarians it is still in Stage 2 of the province's Open for Summer Plan. Acknowledging this was an "exciting step forward," the city remains cautious on releasing public health orders that are still in place and counted that they will continue to be enforced for the 'safety of all' until the bylaw is repealed.
Calgary Mayoral candidate Zane Novak believes that the mask mandate has to end because the negative outcomes outweigh the perceived benefits. Concerned about its impacts on youth, he urges a ‘true return to normalcy’ and cites “public exhaustion” from residents.
Save Calgary said there are social consequences to wearing masks because humans are inherently social creatures. "These interactions are strained when people's faces are covered," they said in a statement in early June. "Wearing masks is part of the reason why so many people have reported feeling isolated during the pandemic."
They urged a return to normalcy and said it is not just ending capacity restrictions and bans on certain activities. "It's about bringing back the way we lived and connected with one another before COVID-19 forced us into our homes and away from each other."
Novak also articulates that Calgarians can make well-informed decisions for themselves. “I believe that if you want to wear a mask ... or choose not to wear a mask, you should be allowed to do so without judgement,” he said.
However, he acknowledges that while the province holds the authority to initiate and end most restrictions, Calgary City Hall has the power to enforce the most visible of all of these restrictions.
Regardless of the vote on July 5, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the Calgary Stampede intends to mandate masks for indoor settings, a measure he said could be removed in the future.
Nenshi told CTV News that despite “really good” second dose vaccination rates, concerns remain on the threat of the Delta variant that originated in India, urging Calgarians on the fence to get vaccinated.
Recent data indicates that 70.7 percent of eligible Albertans have received one dose. Only 29.2 percent are fully immunized. In total, 3,804,700 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Alberta.