Edmonton mandates masks on public transit, city-owned facilities as of Aug. 1
New rule does not include indoor spaces on private property, such as malls
Edmonton will require people to wear masks on public transit and at city-owned and operated facilities starting Aug. 1.
Interim city manager Adam Laughlin announced the measure at an emergency advisory committee meeting on Thursday.
City administration can implement the measure, intended to help slow the spread of COVID-19, without a vote from council and without a new bylaw.
Laughlin said the city will raise awareness and educate the public about the benefits of masks rather than resort to fines.
"It wouldn't be punitive, it would be supportive," Laughlin said. "We believe it is possible to change behaviour by positive reinforcement, by reminding Edmontonians of the role they each play in keeping each other safe."
Laughlin said he's confident most Edmontonians will follow the new safety measure.
Wearing masks is the new version of staying home.- Coun. Michael Walters
Coun. Michael Walters noted that at the beginning of the pandemic in March, people were told to stay home and most of them did.
"Now we're in the period where we're trying to preserve hospital capacity and health-care capacity and keep our economy open," Walters said, adding that he doesn't see enough people wearing masks.
"Wearing masks is the new version of staying home."
Councillors Jon Dziadyk and Tony Caterina did not agree the city should take the step.
Caterina said he was disappointed the city is proactively making the move while the Alberta government has so far resisted mandating face coverings.
"I'm not sure why we're going down this path — because Calgary did it, because Toronto did it, because the sky is blue?" Caterina said.
"Edmontonians should be rewarded for their good behaviour," he said, arguing that the relatively low number of COVID-19 cases reflects efforts to maintain social distance and wash hands.
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All other councillors except Sarah Hamilton and Mike Nickel, who were absent, agreed to the measure.
"I don't view the conversation so much as a punishment or a reward one," Coun. Andrew Knack said.
Particularly on transit — a system still losing money — Knack noted that other transportation companies are adopting the protocols.
"It is actually good for their business and their customer service and for the safety of their customers," he said.
Several councillors wanted to go further and insist people wear face coverings in all indoor public places.
That would require a municipal bylaw, and Laughlin said staff are working on drafting one.
Mayor Don Iveson called another special council meeting for July 29 to discuss the enhanced protocol.
Exemptions to the rule
Some will be exempt from the rule.
Children two years old and under won't have to wear masks.
People eating and drinking in restaurants and cafes run by the city won't have to wear masks, nor will people with health conditions that make it difficult or impossible to wear masks.
Those who cannot wear or remove one without assistance will also be exempt.
People exercising or engaging in athletic activities won't have to wear one.
Part of the decision to mandate face coverings, particularly on public transit, was based on the results of a survey conducted over two weeks in July.
Of more than 3,100 responses from current and past transit users, 71 per cent said they were likely to take public transit again if masks were mandatory.
In terms of public places, 76 per cent of respondents said wearing a mask should be mandatory in any indoor public place.
While the committee was meeting, a small group of people gathered at Churchill Square to protest any move to make mask wearing mandatory.