Calgary's mask bylaw will stay in place until at least July 5

The wearing of masks will continue to be mandatory in Calgary's indoor spaces until at least July 5, a few days after masks will no longer be required in the rest of the province.

Calgary Stampede will require masks indoors, regardless of whether city bylaw is extended

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he's optimistic masks will soon no longer be required to keep people safe. But he's not confident that will be the case by July 1, when the province plans to drop nearly all COVID-19 regulations. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

Wearing masks will continue to be mandatory in Calgary's indoor spaces until at least July 5, a few days after masks will no longer be required in the rest of the province.

Council voted 8 to 6 in favour of the motion on Monday, which states the city's mask bylaw will be reevaluated at a council meeting on July 5, based on metrics like how many second doses have been administered and the rate of infection.

If it's deemed safe to do so, the bylaw could be repealed immediately at that time. 

"It does concern me, colleagues, that there are about 475,000 unprotected Calgarians right now, many of whom are in line to get their first or second shots in the coming weeks … they deserve our protection," said Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart, adding that financial or language barriers have prevented many from being immunized sooner. 

"We just need a little bit more time."

Calgary has half of Alberta's COVID cases

Currently, about half of Alberta's active COVID-19 cases are in Calgary as well as most of the province's cases of the more contagious delta variant. There are currently more than 100 Calgarians in hospital, and 699 people in the city's health region have died. 

Calgary also has one of the highest R-value rates (the rate at which the disease spreads) in the province, sitting at 0.86 to the overall provincial rate of 0.75. 

The province's own mandatory mask bylaws will be rescinded on July 1 under Stage 3 of Alberta's "Open for Summer" plan. Edmonton has also indicated a decision regarding its bylaw is still forthcoming.

Earlier this month, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said he hoped that Calgary and Edmonton would follow the province's lead when it came to provincial mask mandates. Coun. Jeromy Farkas had put forward a motion calling for the city to follow the province, but it was defeated in a 7-7 vote.

"I would just hope that everyone in the province follows the advice of the chief medical officer, whose team proposed our open for summer plan, which is a safe plan," Kenney said on June 9.

The mask doesn't protect you, it protects other people from you.- Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi

Coun. Jeff Davison said he trusts the province is relying on the chief medical officer of health's advice and would support repealing the mask bylaw on July 1, but said he and his family will continue to mask where necessary and avoid situations where transmission could be more likely. 

"For me and my family we won't be throwing out our masks, if we're in a situation where perhaps we feel there's too many people or I feel my kids are at risk, we'll throw on a mask," he said.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi pointed out that masks largely protect others but provide less personal protection, and that many workers who could potentially come face-to-face with many maskless people over the course of a day won't have the same luxury.

"The mask doesn't protect you, it protects other people from you," he said. 

He said additional time will give more protection to workers like bus drivers or grocery store cashiers, as well as children who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.

The mayor also questioned the provincial government's record on pandemic safety.

"I'm not sure how much credibility the government of Alberta has on these measures. We've seen them put in restrictions too late and lift them too early continuously for the last 15 months, causing further waves."

Nenshi also said the Calgary Stampede, which runs July 9 to 18, has committed to requiring masks indoors regardless of whether the city continues to have a mask bylaw in place at that point. 

Dr. Raj Bhardwaj, who spoke to council earlier in the day, said he's hopeful the risk posed by the Stampede will be relatively low as the event is largely held outdoors — but he worries about transmission from crowded CTrains or bars, places where masks could reduce risk.

"This delta variant is like a new pandemic," the doctor cautioned, adding that two doses of vaccine are required to greatly reduce the risk of severe outcomes like hospitalization.

Calgary's mandatory mask bylaw was first introduced in July 2020. City administration had recommended the bylaw stay in place until the end of July. 

The bylaw requires wearing a mask in any public indoor spaces or vehicles, with a possible $500 fine for those who don't comply.

With files from Scott Dippel


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