CALGARY (660 NEWS) — Calgarians will not see a decision made on when the mask bylaw will be lifted in the city of Calgary until next month.
Councilors voted Monday by an 8-6 count to push the decision until the July 5th council meeting — so administration could collect more data.
That means the earliest the bylaw could be rescinded would be that day.
BREAKING from city council (thread enclosed here): Calgary's mask bylaw will remain in effect until at least Jul. 5, at which point council will meet again to discuss. https://t.co/aO5QATLPIm
— Tom Ross (@Tommy_Slick) June 22, 2021
“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 tomonitor any impact of summer re-openings.”
City officials are hoping that extra time will help the city adapt if that relaunch causes a spike in cases or if recent outbreaks of variants grow.
It also gives time for newly eligible people to get their second dose.
Some of the options council has been considering include: repealing the bylaw at the same time as stage three of Alberta’s “Open for Summer” plan moves forward; lift it when 75 per cent of Albertans are fully immunized; or leaving the bylaw in place until the end of the year at the latest.
An expert spoke to council on Monday to offer his thoughts, as he said the best plan of action would be to wait until at least the fall before removing the bylaw.
“That would allow time for case numbers to get low enough, so that in-person school reopening in September is good to go. Especially for the elementary kids because they can’t be vaccinated, they are part of the 475,000 Calgarians unprotected,” said Dr. Raj Bhardwaj.
Bhardwaj said the bylaw can offer more security for people, as polls show there’s still a high level of anxiety about going back to public places without a mask. He added that the bylaw would also remain very helpful with numerous large summer events on the horizon, notably the Calgary Stampede. While many events will be outdoors and there will be little risk to attendees, it’s the other activities people get up to that may cause issues.
“It’s always the indoor part that sort of leads to the superspreader transmission,” said Bhardwaj. “What I worry about are the events around Stampede. Not just on the grounds, but how do people get to the grounds? Are we going to have C-trains packed with people not wearing masks?”
Bhardwaj said the private events people have may also lead to some more cases, and while not much can be done about those activities, keeping the bylaw in place for some settings like public transportation and indoor public spaces could help mitigate the spread further.
Relying on the vaccination rate could also be a good metric, but Bhardwaj warned we could be caught in a tough spot where we never hit the 75 per cent target of Calgarians receiving two doses of vaccine.
Some councillors asked by Bhardwaj was presenting this information to council and not provincial officials, and Calgary Emergency Management Agency Chief Sue Henry said they had sent invitations to both Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and local medical officers but the requests were denied.
Bhardwaj said he can’t speak to why the province is committed to removing all of its restrictions — including the provincial mask mandate — on Jul. 1, but added that previous suggestions from doctors around restrictions had been rebuffed and we ended up with lengthier restrictions as a result.
Premier Jason Kenney has said that he hopes municipalities follow suit with provincial advice and also remove their bylaws soon, but they will work with the cities to figure out the best way forward.
Bhardwaj said while the city does need to consider moving beyond a bylaw, councillors also need to keep in mind what would force them to put it back in place. Most of all, Bhardwaj was hopeful that the correct decision can be made so that we are finally off the rollercoaster of restrictions and reopenings.
“We’ve misjudged this virus in the past, we’ve reacted less quickly than we could have,” he said. “The made for Calgary solution, I think, would not be linking it to Jul. 1.
“We would like this to end, and we would like it to end finally. And if that means going a little bit more slowly with the reopening so that we don’t have to do all this again in August or September or October, then I would take that position.”
—With files from Todd Kaufman