Calgary to make masks mandatory in indoor public spaces as of Aug. 1

Citing the rising numbers of coronavirus cases, the city of Calgary says it will make masks mandatory in all indoor public spaces starting Aug. 1.

Council voted 12-3 in favour of the new bylaw

A man wears a mask inside a pot shop in Calgary. COVID-19 cases in the city have increased dramatically in recent days. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Citing the rising numbers of coronavirus cases, the City of Calgary says it will make masks mandatory in all indoor public spaces starting Aug. 1.

Officials say they hope the mask bylaw will limit the spread of the coronavirus and prevent another lockdown.

"We need to take bold action now if we want schools to reopen, if we want kids to feel safe, if we don't want to close the economy again," Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Tuesday. "This is critical."

Experts have expressed concern about Alberta's rising COVID-19 cases, half of which are in Calgary. The province reported 509 new cases in the last four days, bringing the active case total to 1,193.

"I believe we're in wave two," said Tom Sampson, chief of Calgary Emergency Management Agency, adding the situation is worsening and that hopefully taking fast action will prevent another lockdown. 

Public health shouldn't be a partisan political issue— Coun. Jeff Davison

He said provincial health officials have supported the idea of a mask bylaw. 

Similar rules have been put in place across Quebec municipalities, in Toronto and Ottawa. 

Council voted 12-3 in favour of the new bylaw on Tuesday, with councillors Sean Chu, Jeromy Farkas and Joe Magliocca voting against. 

The bylaw, which will require people to wear a face covering over their mouth, nose and chin, would apply to all indoor public spaces in the city, like malls and grocery stores, and on Calgary Transit, in taxis and Ubers.

It does not include schools, daycares and multi-family residential buildings.

Businesses will be asked to post signs notifying people of the rule, but will not be expected to deny service to those who don't wear masks, as there are exemptions. 

The bylaw will not apply to children under age 2, people with underlying medical conditions that inhibit their ability to wear a mask, people who are eating or drinking, or people who are engaging in a fitness activity, among other exemptions. 

Those who fail to wear a mask and don't meet those exemptions could be fined $100 to $200, but city officials say the focus will be on education over ticketing. 

"I think given the very, very worrying numbers that we're seeing in Calgary … Calgarians need to appreciate that without a significant move now, we might be spending Christmas or Thanksgiving alone in our houses," Coun. Evan Woolley said. 

The city said according to its research, only 34 per cent of Calgarians say they always wear a face covering in public or confined spaces, which is well below the World Health Organization's target that 80 per cent of a population be masking regularly to contain community spread. 

"We're not playing here, this is serious and people are suffering," said Coun. Druh Farrell.

Magliocca, who voted against the bylaw, said he could not support what he described as further government interference in people's lives. 

On Monday, United Nurses of Alberta President Heather Smith wrote a letter to the mayors of Alberta's six largest cities, asking them to mandate the wearing of face coverings in public spaces.

"I know that our members are reminded daily of the gravity of this pandemic, the serious health consequences COVID-19 poses, and the rationale behind the effectiveness of mask wearing to suppress the spread of this dangerous new virus," she wrote. 

Coun. Jeff Davison said keeping case numbers down will be also instrumental in resuming economic growth.

"Public health shouldn't be a partisan political issue," he tweeted. 

The final details will be discussed and voted on by council next Monday, in advance of the bylaw taking effect. 

With files from Scott Dippel