Grande Prairie residents should find out Monday at what point masks could become mandatory in indoor public spaces. City council is meeting to discuss a draft bylaw that outlines what would have to happen in order for face coverings to be required.
What’s proposed in Bylaw C-1426 is using specific trigger points based on the City and County of Grande Prairie’s relaunch statuses, as designated by the provincial government. In particular, it would hinge on whether the status in either community goes from “open” to “watch”.
The province classifies a region as under watch when there are at least 10 active COVID-19 cases and more than 50 active cases per 100,000 residents. It means the risk in the area is being monitored, and the possible need for more health measures is being discussed with local governments and community leaders.
As of August 27th, the City of Grande Prairie has 24 active cases, giving it a rate of 32.6 cases per 100,000 residents, based on a population of 73,697. The County has 15 active cases, for a rate of 47.9 cases per 100,000 residents out of a population of 31,319.
Based on the proposed bylaw, people would have to wear a face covering when in a public place or vehicle unless they are separated from other people by an installed screen, shield, or other barrier. It wouldn’t apply in schools, hospitals and health care facilities, parts of public facilities only accessed by staff, and for drivers of public vehicles properly distanced or protected by a shield.
Exceptions are also made for children under two, children under five who can’t be persuaded to wear a mask, people who can’t wear one due to a medical or physical concern or who can’t safely put one on without help, and people who are protected under the Alberta Human Rights Act. Masks would also not be required when people are eating or drinking in a public place, working out, giving care to someone with a disability that could be hindered by their face being covered, getting a service that requires them to remove their mask, or in bed at a homeless shelter.
Businesses would also be required to visibly display signage.
The requirement for mandatory use of face coverings would be deactivated once the status returned from “watch” to “open” for no less than 14 days in a row. Both the City and County would have to be considered “open”.
In a report prepared by city staff, it’s noted that implementing a mandatory mask bylaw could lead to an increase in garbage if people choose to wear disposable masks instead of reusable ones, which could also include littering. It’s expected that requiring the use of face coverings would also help local businesses stay open.
“With support from the Grande Prairie Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Business Association, the implementation of mandatory face coverings during this health crisis will minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19 throughout the community and the region and allow businesses to continue to operate, avoiding another lockdown.”
It’s also recognized that there has been varied response to businesses choosing to require masks on their own. An education and awareness campaign has already been launched by the city.
“Many individuals have protested the requirements citing a violation of the Charter of Human Rights or other health implications,” the report reads. “Currently there is no evidence supporting either of these claims, however the body of science regarding the transmission of the virus continues to grow.”
A more cautious alternative presented to the proposed trigger points is to instead establish a percentage value of a “watch” status. Strathcona County has used this method, using the trigger of 25 active cases per 100,000, or 50 per cent of the government’s “watch” status.
The proposed bylaw gives the City discretion on when it should be enforced. Failure to where a mask where required would mean a ticket of $100 and failure of a business to display proper signs would be $200.
A Council Committee of the Whole meeting is scheduled for Monday at 9 a.m., followed by a Special City Council meeting at 10 a.m. should the bylaw get the green light from the committee. Both can be viewed online.