By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News
Face masks are now required to be worn in indoor or at least partially enclosed public spaces in the county.
During special meetings on Dec.3 and Dec. 4, Lethbridge County council discussed a potential face mask bylaw, and council had passed first and second reading during the Dec. 3 meeting.
During discussion during the Dec. 4 meeting, coun. Morris Zeinstra said that a face mask mandate should come from the province, but as they weren’t doing it and are saying it’s up to each municipality, and the county should “step up to the plate” to keep people safe from COVID-19, and face masks can help with that.
Reeve Lorne Hockey noted that while a fax mask lane will not prevent covid, it will help, and is one step you can do, like socially distancing and limiting the people you are in close contact with, to help protect yourself.
“A lot of it is a lot of common sense,” said Hickey.
Coun. Klass Vander Veen noted that a lot of comments he’s heard from businesses is that they are making face masks mandatory already and are supervising it as well, since the county wasn’t doing it. Additionally, some surrounding towns, like Coaldale, don’t have mask bylaws. Vander Veen voiced support for making an educational component.
“It’s just going to make the division between people worse if we do it, and I think the people that are doing it, they will do it anyway, and if we have some people that don’t do it, we’re not going to enforce it,” said Vander Veen. “I don’t see the use in putting an extra bylaw in, to show that we are the county, and we have that little extra bit of power, and we want to force you to do it that way. I think that is the wrong way to go about it.” Coun. Steve Campbell agreed that the province should be implementing such a mandate, but his issue over the province’s “inconsistent” in this, citing the example players on a sports team needing to wear masks but leaving it up to municipalities on whether spectators should, and that creates problems.
“If we could ban together with the other municipalities in our region, to talk with the government, work with the government, get them to make the right decisions, not have their head in the sand like they are,” said Steve. “I’m all for wearing masks, I just don’t believe it has to be a municipal decision.” Coun. Tory Campbell, after stressing he heard his colleagues viewpoints and respected them, and they’ve all heard multiple viewpoints from their residents, said this shouldn’t be a both-sides issue, but there obviously is on this. For him, if they can prevent one case of COVID-19 being spread by having a mask bylaw, then it’s worth it to him. Coun. Ken Benson noted the proposed bylaw mandated face masks while in an indoor, enclosed, or substantially enclosed public place or in a public vehicle, and were not going after people doing nothing in a street, and they weren’t doing anything more than they do already.
Vander Veen argued that for enforcement, businesses are already asking people to wear and staff are wearing masks, so if they are already doing the work, why is the county going out of there way to do it. While it is an education piece, especially with Coaldale declining to pass a bylaw, they don’t have a way to control or enforce the bylaw.
Benson noted there wasn’t a lot of place in the county that fall under the bylaw’s jurisdiction, so he didn’t see a problem with it.
Zeinstra said businesses have told him they don’t know where they stand in regards to face masks, and a bylaw would provide clarity.
Steve added that it may be confusing if one municipality does it but another does it, and expressed support for a ban for the entire region, adding it would be better coming form the province. Vander Veen agreed with the idea of a provincial mandate.
“I totally, agree, we need to get this done.
That means engaging with our neighbours, engaging with the province and pushing for this,” said Tory. “To me, they’re not separate issues, I totally agree, we need to get this done. But us not doing anything concerns me a heck of a lot more. I think for me, the time for education has passed, the time for when the government tried to shame us into being better has passed. Everybody look out for everybody – I’m sorry, there was over 1,800 new cases yesterday. If you are in a hospital and you are in the situation where you’re near the end of your life, your family cannot enter that facility to say goodbye to you. There is not room in the hospices for people to die with dignity. I mean, we’re talking about masks here. I realize it’s so much bigger than that, it’s about the strain and the stress on our health care system that this insidious disease has caused. And I just, I don’t have the appetite to sit here and wait for people to learn and think ‘wow, we need to be better’. We need to be better, we should be wearing masks everywhere, it shouldn’t be an issue of ‘well, I’m in the county I’m not going to wear a mask, I’m in Coaldale, I’m not going to be able to wear a mask’. You should wear a mask everywhere, you should be respectful to those around you, respectful to those who are vulnerable, and I think we, as a people, need to be better.”
Vander Veen noted that regions with masks mandates still have high active case numbers, and while he believed everyone should where a mask, he didn’t think a bylaw would solve anything in the county. Benson noted it wasn’t binding on the towns, they just had to look at the places in the county.
Council passed third reading of the Temporary Mandatory Face Coverings Bylaw 20-024, in a split 5-2 vote, with Vander Veen and Steve voting against.