Winnipeg mayor urges Manitoba government to make masks mandatory
City could 'begin efforts to mandate masks' in Winnipeg but it's deferring to province
The rise of COVID-19 cases in Winnipeg has the mayor calling on the provincial government to make masks mandatory across Manitoba, though his office admits the city could get the ball rolling on its own.
Mayor Brian Bowman has consistently deferred to the advice of provincial public health officials, but for the first time on Tuesday he stepped forward and said he wants the province to mandate mask use as Winnipeg's case totals mount.
"I do hope the province is considering a mandatory mask requirement provincewide," Bowman told Information Radio host Marcy Markusa. "I think the numbers really are concerning right now."
The mayor's response came two days after Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler posted to Twitter that the premier should mandate masks, and one day after the leader of the Official Opposition requested the same.
Provincial health officials currently recommend the use of masks in indoor public spaces where distancing isn't possible.
Three-quarters of Manitoba's nearly 400 active cases are in Winnipeg, and two more deaths announced Monday bring the provincial total to 18.
The City of Winnipeg mandated mask use in public municipal buildings and on Winnipeg Transit buses on Aug. 29. That decision was made after consultations with Manitoba Health, said a spokesperson for the mayor's office.
When asked about mandating mask use across the city or province in the past, Bowman has deferred to Health Minister Cameron Friesen, Premier Brian Pallister and health officials such as Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin.
City could mandate masks
That's not to say the city couldn't move forward with its own mask mandate.
"While the city could begin efforts to mandate masks in the city of Winnipeg, the mayor believes that a mask mandate for all of Manitoba would be the best, most consistent way to protect the health of Winnipeggers," said Jeremy Davis, a spokesperson with the mayor's office, in an email on Tuesday.
"That's why at this time he will defer to the public health experts at the Province of Manitoba, whom he hopes is considering such measures."
When cases spiked in the Prairie Mountain Health region in August, health officials imposed a mandatory mask rule and restricted gathering sizes.
On Aug. 21 — one day after the restrictions were announced and three days before they came into effect — 265 active cases had been reported in Manitoba, with more than half in Prairie Mountain, many of them concentrated in Brandon.
The growth of the active case tally in the region steadied then declined considerably in the ensuing weeks, and the restrictions were lifted.
On Monday, Winnipeg's active case load grew to nearly 300.
Roussin said there already appears to be "a lot of uptake" in mask use in Winnipeg without a provincewide mandate, citing businesses imposing their own rules and the mandate in schools for grades 4 and up.
He also said "certainly the trend is in the wrong direction" right now. He was asked why not then impose a mask mandate in Winnipeg to help stem the spread.
"When we mandate things, we base that on our indicators," he said. "We're messaging strongly about masks right now and I think that's important, but we'll mandate things under the Public Health Act when we have indicators to support that."
'No doubt' mulling mask mandate
Bowman said he has "no doubt" those officials are considering mandatory mask use right now.
NDP Leader Wab Kinew also repeated calls to roll out a mask mandate on Monday.
Bowman said that seeing public figures such as Wheeler call on Pallister to make masks mandatory shows people are accepting the idea.
"I see a number of folks weighing in on our captain of the Winnipeg Jets on the weekend who I got a lot of time for, and I agree it's it's something that I hope the province is considering."