Edmonton

City of Edmonton cancels mask exemption card program

The City of Edmonton is cancelling a mask exemption card program introduced in early August, interim city manager Adam Laughlin told council's emergency advisory committee Thursday. 

Existing exemption cards will still be honoured

The City of Edmonton found the mask exemption card program was misused after it gave out nearly 4,000 cards over a few days in August. (CBC News)

The City of Edmonton is cancelling a mask exemption card program introduced in early August, interim city manager Adam Laughlin told council Thursday. 

Cards already issued will be honoured, Laughlin said, but no new cards will be issued. 

The decision was part of the regular update to council's emergency advisory committee meeting on the city's COVID-19 measures.

Administration reviewed the program over the past month, Laughlin said. 

The city gave out nearly 4,000 exemption cards between Aug. 8 and 12 without requiring medical proof. 

The city suspended the program on Aug. 12, after receiving complaints from the public and businesses. 

David Aitken, chair of the city's COVID-19 task team, said they also determined many cards were given out to people who weren't eligible. 

"We felt there was some abuse of the program," Aitken told council. 

Before cancelling the program, the city consulted business improvement areas, the city's accessibility advisory committee and Dr. Chris Sikora, medical officer of health for the Edmonton zone. 

"What we learned is there's a real tension between being able to provide something for those individuals that have a legitimate exemption without applying more pressure to the medical system, i.e. doctor's notes," Laughlin said. "And clarity for the business improvement areas." 

The city's face-covering bylaw lists several exemptions: 

People unable to put on or remove a face covering without help, people with mental or physical limitations, children under two, anyone exercising and swimming don't have to wear one. 

Anyone with a legitimate exemption who was challenged at a business can contact 311. 

Laughlin said the city also plans to educate businesses about exemptions. 

The mask bylaw went into effect Aug. 1 and expires Dec. 31.

Aitken said the city is looking at extending the bylaw and amending it by end of November or early December.

"Get that on the table for discussion," Aitken told council. 

"We would certainly be seeking guidance from Alberta Health Services," Aitken said. "We would look at the bylaw and consider any current gaps or changes that may be required." 

Winter worries

Also during the emergency advisory committee meeting, councillors said constituents are asking about the plan to keep city recreation and aquatic facilities open.

Coun. Sarah Hamilton said people want to know what will happen if there's a second wave of COVID-19 and subsequent lockdown this winter. 

"If we go back into a lockdown and it's October, November, and the weather is no longer as pleasant to be outside — there is some concern about the availability of indoor city services, particularly recreation services," she said. 

Laughlin said considering the "financial constraints that we're dealing with," administration will present the plan for facilities in the fall budget update, likely in November. 

City facilities were closed for three months during the spring lockdown. Most reopened gradually with new rules in July. 

Coun. Bev Esslinger echoed Hamilton's message, saying she's been getting a lot of pressure about sports facilities. 

Particularly, she said many pool users are complaining about people not showing up for their booked spot. 

"We're getting a lot of comments about showing up and seeing many empty lanes and being frustrated."

Rob Smyth, deputy manager of citizen services, said the city is considering imposing penalties for no-shows or finding a way to let others take the time slot. 

"The numbers in lane swims are very limited," Smyth said. "At this point, there's no penalty."

"Yeah and that's really bothering people," Esslinger said. 

@natashariebe

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