Mask up: What you need to know about masks in Edmonton

Starting Saturday, shoppers, diners and moviegoers in Edmonton will be required to wear a face covering but questions linger about when and where to mask up.

Starting Aug. 1 face coverings will be mandatory in indoor public places

People may remove masks while they're seated in designated areas eating and drinking but restaurants, cafes and pubs are included in the city's face covering bylaw. (Sam Martin/CBC)

Starting Saturday, shoppers, diners and moviegoers in Edmonton will be required to wear a face covering but questions linger about when and where to mask up. 

The bylaw, passed Wednesday by city council, requires people to wear a mask or something similar in all indoor places where the public has access. 

They include buses, LRT transit stations, recreation and sports facilities, restaurants, pubs, cafes, retail stores, shopping malls and any entertainment venue. 

There are plenty of exceptions.

People do not have to wear a face covering if they:

  • need help getting one on and off
  • have a mental or physical limitation
  • have grounds under the Alberta Human Rights Act
  • are consuming food or drink in designated seating areas or as part of religious ceremony
  • are exercising or swimming
  • are getting service or treatment that requires removing a covering temporarily
  • are under two years old
  • employee-only spaces where physical barriers are installed between employees and patrons

The bylaw does not apply to schools, hospitals, health-care facilities and child-care facilities.

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How will it be enforced?

Education, awareness, and communication is the city's motto right now.

The bylaw includes a $100 fine for infractions but the city doesn't expect to lay down the law with a heavy hand right away. 

Interim city manager Adam Laughlin said similar to restrictions imposed through public health orders in the spring, the city will focus on communication. 

"We're not going to be using the stick to enforce this," Laughlin said Wednesday. "It's not going to be punitive, it's going to be supporting and helpful in building the awareness that this is the requirement." 

Peace and bylaw officers will interact with the public while the city puts up digital and social media campaigns as well as information on their website and signs. 

Laughlin said the education and awareness campaign will include guidance on how to use and take care of the masks.

"And how to put on and take off the masks as well."

That's something that a lot of people aren't doing properly, according to health experts.

Two days before the new bylaw comes into effect, many people already wearing masks are making faux pas, according to health experts. 

Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an associate professor at the University of Alberta's Division of Infectious Diseases, said once a mask is on, it's best to leave it there, and people should resist adjusting it with their hands. 

"I've seen people do things like walk around and then pull their mask away from their face to talk to their friend — not a good idea."  

Saxinger said while there's a lot of enthusiasm for cloth masks, there's also plenty of undecided evidence on how effective they are. 

"There's a real fear that people are going to use masks instead of reducing contacts and distancing and hand washing when in fact, it's really clear that they should be used in addition to those things." 

Saxinger expects better information and more guidance on cloth masks will be coming from health organizations and governments. 

"Not all cloth masks are created equal," she said. "Cloth can vary a whole lot on how well it filters and also how breathable it is." 

To start, Saxinger recommends choosing masks with multiple layers and preferably a spun-bound filter in between layers.  

Quick tips: 

  • make sure it fits well and covers nose and mouth
  • store in paper or cloth bag after taking them off 
  • wash in machine or by hand with soap and water after each use
  • don't leave hanging on rear-view mirrors

Where can I get one?

Laughlin said the City will not be responsible for providing masks for the public. 

"Our expectation or citizens is to secure your mask or face covering that serves your needs," 

The city gave out more than a million disposable masks between mid-June and mid-July at transit stations as part of the province's distribution program. 

A city spokesperson, Chrystal Coleman, said the City will be distributing a limited number of masks through transit peace officers and transit inspectors. 

"Our intent is to provide these masks to those who need them most rather than distributing broadly."

Many places now sell reusable masks, from local craftspeople to corporate stores.