By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News
A Coaldale town councillor and the local chamber of commerce are looking for feedback on whether Coaldale should implement a temporary mandatory face mask bylaw.
During town council’s regular Oct. 13 meeting, they passed a motion in a split 5-2 vote to direct the Emergency Advisory Committee to come back to their next meeting with recommendation and/or a proposed mask wearing bylaw. Discussion in the topic had centred around the rise in active COVID-19 cases in the area, and since that council meeting, an outbreak was declared in Coaldale at ROC Christian Ministries.
“We felt it would be beneficial to hear the recommendations from the Emergency Advisory Committee regarding their thoughts and recommendations for a mask bylaw,” said Briane Simpson, Coaldale town councillor. “Earlier on during the pandemic the south zone had significantly lower cases than other areas of the province. With the increasing cases over the last few months, we have recognized there may be a need to increase measures to reduce the spread of COVID.”
In addition to the one in Coaldale, there have also been recent outbreaks nearby communities, such as at the Lethbridge Coalhurst Good News Centre in the Town of Coalhurst, and in long-term care facilities and supportive living/home living sites in Lethbridge, as well as some businesses in Lethbridge as well. Both the city and Lethbridge County – in which Coaldale is included -were placed on the provincial COVID-19 watch list a couple of weeks ago as well. As of press deadline on Friday, there were 25 active cases in the county area and 161 in the city.
The Coaldale and District Chamber of Commerce had launched a one question online-survey last week that asked if people thought Coaldale should have a Temporary Mandatory Face Covering Bylaw, similar to Lethbridge. The survey arose from a chamber speaker series meeting, where Simpson, the town council representative to the chamber, asked if that was something they would be interested in.
“In our round table discussion, in a presentation from Briane Simpson, it was a question that she raised, saying that council was interested in inquiring about what the business community felt about a mask bylaw,” said Colleen van Raalte, executive director for the chamber, adding they volunteered to ask their members and the business community their thoughts on it.
As Lethbridge is a close neighbour to Coaldale, residents would be familiar with their mandatory face mask bylaw.
Of the 62 responses they received by Thursday, Oct. 22, morning, 14 were in favour of such a bylaw while 48 opposed the bylaw.
Respondents were also able to anonymously add comments to the survey. One respondent who was against the bylaw wrote that their business has taken several steps independent of legislation to reduce the chances of contacting COVID-19, and their customers already wear masks. Another against it wrote “Each business should look out in how to proceed with (their) safety protocol, it should not be an mandatory face covering Bylaw”.
Some who voted against a bylaw noted it would be hard to enforce, while other argued that masks were ineffective and did not prevent the spread of COVID-19.
According to Alberta Health Services, Albertans are encouraged to wear non-medical masks in public when it’s difficult to maintain physical distancing of two metres at all times. While wearing a face mask is considered another tool to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, it hasn’t been proven that masks protect the person wearing it, although it can help protect people from being exposed to your germs and should complement, not replace, other prevention measures such as social distancing and hand washing measures.
For those who voted in favour of the bylaw in the survey, those who left comments cited safety and increasing COVID-19 cases as reasons to go for it. One respondent commented that “As citizens of a wonderful country we have a responsibility to keep one another safe” and wearing a mask was a small thing to do to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 While the chamber gathered feedback from the business community, Simpson had asked the wider community for feedback on her town councillor Facebook page, posing it as a three option question as to whether the town should A) Create a mask bylaw similar to the City of Lethbridge; B) Create an Awareness Campaign; or C) Remain how it is right now. In the post, she noted a bylaw would be hard to enforce and a potential awareness campaign would feature posters for business and public places to post and the sharing of information through means such as social media, website and a mail-out.
The post, created on Oct. 21 at 7:04 p.m., garnered about 100 direct responses by the next morning. Simpson said she will continue to gather feedback to present at the Oct. 26 council meeting, and urged people to contact her or any member of council, and would be willing to “meet for coffee” if a community member would like to discuss this or any other issue face-to-face.
“I have personally heard many different views of this. I have discussed in person and read comments online regarding a mask bylaw.
There are many people that believe that it should be their choice to wear face masks and are against the idea. There are also many people that fully support this idea and even have adjusted their practices based on the fact that Coaldale does not require face masks.
There are some people that have commented on social media that they will shop in Lethbridge because there is a requirement to wear face masks there and there is not in Coaldale. There are also people that say face masks should not be required and they avoid Lethbridge due to the fact that they have to wear a face mask when they go there. There are also people that say they have more Lethbridge customers because Coaldale does not have a mask bylaw,” said Simpson.
“So I guess to sum it up, personally I have heard various different opinions on the idea and it goes from one extreme to the other. I will tally up the number of people that responded on my Facebook post and their choices on Monday and present it at that council meeting. I also believe that the chamber will have their survey results available for us for that meeting also.”
Municipalities such as Calgary, Lethbridge and Edmonton have face mask bylaws in place for in indoor public areas and public vehicles. As of press deadline on Friday, there were 3,519 active cases of COVID-19 in the province.