Alberta doctors reiterate calls for mandatory masking as COVID-19 cases surge

In the wake of a surge of new COVID-19 cases in the province, a group of doctors is urging the City of Calgary to implement an immediate mandatory masking bylaw in the city.

Group issued open letter to members of Calgary city council in advance of Monday meeting

A man wears a face mask as he waits for transit in Calgary. The Alberta government lifted the last of its COVID-19 restrictions this week, including the public transit mask mandate and the legal requirement that people who test positive for COVID or have symptoms, isolate. (The Canadian Press)

In the wake of a surge of new COVID-19 cases in the province, a group of doctors is urging the City of Calgary to implement an immediate mandatory masking bylaw in the city.

"It baffles me that we're at a state that this simple intervention that has been done in 129 countries and 25 U.S. states seems to have such incredible resistance here," said Dr. Joe Vipond, an organizer with the Alberta chapter of the Masks4Canada advocacy group.

"Let's be clear, it's not resistance by the majority of the population."

Alberta has now seen two straight days of triple-digit growth in COVID-19 cases with 120 new cases on Thursday and 105 on Friday. More than half of the active cases, 455, are of unknown origin.

Find out which neighbourhoods or communities have the most cases, how hard people of different ages have been hit, the ages of people in hospital, how Alberta compares to other provinces and more in: Here are the latest COVID-19 statistics for Alberta — and what they mean

In its letter, the Masks4Canada group urges council to mandate that people be required to wear masks in all indoor spaces outside the home, in crowds, and on public transit, with exemptions for medical reasons and young children.

Masks4Canada has made similar requests to local and provincial governments before, but Vipond said the new letter was prompted by the surge in cases and by Calgary council's planned meeting on Monday to debate mandating the wearing of masks on Calgary Transit.

Vipond said implementing mandatory masks on transit would be a positive step, but added he hoped council would take heed of other jurisdictions mandating masks in all indoor spaces.

"[Indoor spaces] is really where we're seeing the spread — when you're seeing these superspreaders, they're spin classes, restaurants, grocery stores, and other indoor spaces," he said. "We need to be fighting on all fronts, and so half-measures in my mind don't cut it."

Alberta mask policy

In a statement, Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan said the province continued to strongly recommend Albertans wear a mask whenever physical distancing is not possible.

"We continue to monitor the situation in Alberta closely. There is no plan to require the mandatory use of masks province-wide," McMillan said.

"We recognize that each local setting is unique. Municipalities are free to implement additional measures, should they feel it is appropriate for the needs of their specific community."

Speaking during a press conference held Thursday, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said two new outbreaks declared in Calgary-Centre and Calgary-Elbow indicated that the city was "trending in the wrong direction."

Nenshi has mused about the possibility of making masks mandatory in Calgary, though Monday's meeting is currently only focused on mandating the wearing of masks on Calgary Transit. Should the measure be approved, it would take effect on Aug. 1.

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Other provinces and municipalities across Canada have implemented various mandatory mask policies. Quebec Premier François Legault announced July 13 that masks would be made mandatory in indoor spaces, following a number of Ontario municipalities, including Toronto.

Recent outbreaks

The province declared four new COVID-19 outbreaks Friday in Calgary, and cases have forced a number of spin cycle and fitness studios close temporarily as a precaution.

The new outbreaks include the Fire N Ice Lounge, the Cactus Club restaurant on Stephen Avenue, the Trinity Lodge continuing care facility and a private gathering.

A map from Alberta Health shows the two new COVID-19 'watches' declared by the province, in Calgary-Centre and Calgary-Elbow. (Alberta Health)

Outbreaks within continuing care facilities are reported when there are two or more cases, while outbreaks at other facilities are reported publicly when there are five or more cases.

Considering recent case counts of 120 and 105 on Thursday and Friday, respectively, Vipond predicted troubling numbers ahead should protective measures not be taken.

"We could be having thousands of daily cases by September if we don't act. Math is super hard to fight, and logarithmic growth is our enemy," Vipond said. "A lot of people haven't absorbed the implications of this kind of growth.

"I can predict the future. Seems like a bold statement, but other jurisdictions have been right where we are."

With files from Robson Fletcher