Edmonton's mandatory mask bylaw may outlive the provincial rule

The City of Edmonton is taking a cautious approach when lifting COVID-19 restrictions even as the province moves to relax them, city officials said Tuesday.

Doctors ask Edmonton and Calgary to keep mask bylaws until 70 per cent are fully vaccinated

Edmonton's face-covering bylaw is effective until Dec. 31, 2021, unless city council repeals it. (David Bajer/CBC)

The City of Edmonton is taking a cautious approach when lifting COVID-19 restrictions even as the province moves to relax them, city manager Andre Corbould and Mayor Don Iveson said Tuesday. 

At an emergency advisory committee meeting, Corbould outlined the city's reopening plans, which will still include  precautions like physical distancing, sanitization and continued mask-wearing. 

"Even when we're in Stage 3, it's not a sign that the pandemic is over," Corbould said. "It's simply a sign that we're at a point where we can potentially lift some restrictions."

Corbould said the city will continue to follow precautions as facilities reopen, and will review its face-covering bylaw, which is in effect until December 2021 unless council agrees to rescind it. 

Mayor Don Iveson said he's not convinced the city should lift the mask requirement in tandem with the province's timetable. 

"Whether the mask mandate should be lifted in lockstep with Stage 3, I have some pause around that," Iveson said during a news conference. 

He's considering advice provided by the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association, a group of doctors that sent a letter to him and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi. 

The doctors are asking the mayors of Alberta's two largest municipalities to keep the face-covering bylaws in place until 70 per cent of their respective city populations has been fully inoculated with two doses of COVID-19 vaccine. 

The province's Stage 3 reopening is contingent on 70 per cent of eligible Albertans — that is, Albertans aged 12 and up — having had only their first shot. Stage 3 could go into effect in early July. 

The doctors' group, co-chaired by Dr. Noel Gibney and Dr. James Talbot, notes that only 10 per cent of Albertans are fully protected. The group also says there is a risk with the new delta variant that spreads more rapidly than previous variants. 

"This reckless relaxing of precautions and allowing super-spreader events to take place is likely to jeopardize the smooth reopening of schools and workplaces in the fall," the doctors stated in their letter. 

Iveson said he'll take their thoughts to the next council meeting, where there will likely be a vote on whether to keep or lift the face-covering bylaw ahead of its Dec. 31, 2021 expiry date. 

"They're imploring us, after 15 months on the front lines, to do everything we can to try to prevent a fourth wave, particularly driven by the variants," Iveson noted. 

The doctors laud the cities for taking a stand last August in making masks mandatory in indoor spaces when the province would not. 

"The purpose of this letter is to ask that you consider taking the brave and meaningful steps you and your city councils took earlier in the epidemic, when the government was not prepared to act to protect its citizens." 

The doctors have sent letters to the provincial government throughout the pandemic, urging stricter measures when COVID-19 cases were spiking. 

Iveson noted the doctors have a reliable track record. 

"They've generally been right when they've issued warnings about decisions being taken prematurely with respect to reopening," Iveson said. "They have been right every time."