COCHRANE— Cochrane council has passed a bylaw mandating the use of masks to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
For the bylaw to be enacted Cochrane needs to reach 10 active COVID-19 cases. If this event occurs the Director of Emergency Management Stacey Loe will have the authority to immediately implement the wearing of face-coverings in all public places.
If Cochrane reports 10 cases or below for 14 consecutive days, the bylaw will be deactivated. Loe noted that to date Cochrane has not seen a double-digit rate of infection.
"This has been an extraordinary issue to have to grapple with as a community and as a council," said Mayor Jeff Genung. "The responsibility now is firmly on the community of Cochrane to keep the cases at below 10."
A sunset clause amendment was included in the bylaw at the request of Coun. Morgan Nagel to ensure the mandatory masks provision expires on Feb. 1, 2021.
The bylaw was passed 5-2 with the support of all councillors, aside from councillors Patrick Wilson and Morgan Nagel, at a special meeting on Wednesday (July 29).
"I just feel so strongly about this subject that we are doing the wrong thing— I had to oppose out of conscience," Wilson said. "It's an Alberta Health subject in my estimation. None the less I will advocate for autonomous business decisions and personal responsibility."
Wilson said he believed the implementation of mandatory masks intrudes on Cochranites "hard-won" personal liberties.
Genung noted that the subject may have been better handled in provincial decision making hands, but given the fact the province has passed the responsibility onto municipalities, he appreciated how the bylaw draws on Alberta Health Services guidelines.
As the bylaw is rolled out the Town of Cochrane will focus initially on education, but those not wearing masks could face a $100 penalty.
The bylaw will apply to all indoor public places, including businesses the public has access too. The bylaw does not include premises with enrollment or membership requirements. Businesses will be encouraged to place signage created by the Town educating people on the use of face coverings if the use of mandatory masks is activated in Cochrane.
Children under the age of five, those with underlying medical conditions or disabilities, those unable to safely place or remove a mask without assistance, those eating or drinking in public spaces, and those participating in fitness activities will be exempt from the bylaw. The temporary removal of a mask when necessary to provide or receive a service will also be allowed.
People who are exempted from wearing a face-covering will not be asked to present proof, Loe said, and can instead declare they fall into one of the exempted categories.
The decision comes after Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw declared “the curve is no longer flat in Alberta” on Monday (July 27). Hinshaw has recommended the use of masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Coun. Tara McFadden said it was disappointing to see Cochrane Council forced to debate the use of mandatory masks in Town because the decision should have been made by the province. She added that COVID-19 cases are spiking and the community and province cannot afford to go back into lockdown.
"Mask's work. They're not the only solution they're part of the toolbox," McFadden said. "Our priority is to keep our residents safe and healthy and our next priority is to keep our economy functioning. I don't know another business that could afford a shutdown."
It has been concerning to see the conversation around masks become polarizing and it has been difficult for Council to be put in the position to make this decision, she said. McFadden added at the end of the day she needs to be able to say she did her best to keep the community safe.
"If we're too cautious the worst-case scenario is we might have to wear masks longer then we would like to. But, the worst-case scenario, if we don't do this, is somebody could actually die," McFadden said.
The City of Calgary council passed a new bylaw requiring people to wear masks in all indoor public buildings and public transit spaces last Tuesday (July 21).
As of 9 a.m. Wednesday (July 29) there are six active COVID-19 cases in the Town of Cochrane.