Strathcona County is reinstating its masking bylaw, citing a surge in COVID-19 cases within the municipality and across the province.
At a special council meeting Wednesday, councillors in the county east of Edmonton approved a temporary bylaw that will make masks mandatory in all indoor public places and public vehicles.
Effective Friday, Sept. 10, face coverings will be required at malls, grocery stores, retail businesses, places of worship and county facilities, as well as taxis, buses and ride-sharing vehicles.
Failure to mask up as required could result in a fine of $100. The bylaw will expire on Dec. 31 unless council votes to extend it.
‘Taking extra steps’
“The county is taking extra steps due to the rising cases in the county and Alberta to help slow the spread of COVID-19, support our economy and protect local and regional resident and community health,” Mayor Rod Frank said in a statement.
The decision came on the same day that Alberta reported 1,315 new cases of COVID-19 — the highest one-day total since mid-May.
The province is leading the country in daily new cases and active cases and hospitalization rates are again surging.
As of Wednesday, the latest provincial health data showed 284 active COVID-19 cases in the county’s population of more than 99,000 people.
‘Upsetting decision for some’
Frank characterized the masking issue as divisive.
“This will be an upsetting decision for some,” he said. “Treating each other with kindness and respect, even when we don’t agree, continues to be important as we adapt to ongoing changes.”
The bylaw does not apply to schools, childcare facilities or private residences. Exemptions will be made for children under two years of age and persons who are unable to wear a face covering due for medical reasons.
Other exemptions include:
- People who are eating or drinking in designated seating areas or as part of a religious ceremony.
- People who are exercising or engaging in athletic and water activities.
- People participating in a dance, theatre or musical performance as long as participants do not enter public viewing areas.
- Caregivers or those accompanying someone with a disability, when wearing a face covering would hinder the accommodation of the person’s disability.
- People who need to temporarily remove their face covering to provide or receive a service.
- People who are providing or receiving consultation services in closed spaces, if all parties can remain at least six feet apart.
The bylaw was approved 8-1 with Coun. Brian Botterill voting against.
Coun. Linton Delainey had voted against the bylaw, up until the third and final reading.
Delainey said he initially voted against the bylaw because wants the province to institute an Alberta-wide mask mandate.
He said the current situation is putting pressure on municipalities to make the call, but he ultimately didn’t want to stand in the way of the local bylaw passing.
“I’m not ready to let the government of Alberta off the hook on this,” Delainey said during Wednesday’s meeting.
“If they believe that masks are so important and everyone should be wearing them, they need to stand up, man up and say, ‘Everybody in the province, wear your masks.'”
At a March 23 council meeting, Strathcona council voted for its previous mask bylaw to expire, but Alberta’s sweeping mask mandate remained in effect at the time.
Alberta has since lifted most of its masking protocols and there is now a patchwork of masking rules for public spaces across the province.
Edmonton mask bylaw back Friday
Also contending with rising caseloads, Edmonton city council voted on Monday to bring back its mask bylaw.
Effective Friday, Sept. 3, masks will be mandatory while visiting grocery stores, restaurants and other public places within the city. Edmonton’s bylaw is set to expire on Dec. 31.
Under the province’s Stage 3 reopening plan, launched in July, people are no longer required to wear masks indoors in most settings. Starting Sept. 27, masks will no longer be required when using public transit.
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