COCHRANE— An incorrect notification indicating Cochrane’s mandatory mask bylaw had been activated created confusion Tuesday (Oct. 13).
Mayor Jeff Genung said the Town has been carefully monitoring the number of active COVID-19 cases in the community, prior to incorrectly activating the bylaw. He noted a correction was sent out as soon as the error was recognized.
“We’ve had our finger on the trigger for quite a few weeks now in regards to mandatory masks and the bylaw,” Genung said. “In all of the preparations that went into formulating that in the first place there was quite a few versions.”
The Town spent a lot of time behind the scenes contemplating if Cochrane’s mandatory mask bylaw should be tied to solely to the Town's COVID-19 case numbers or include the Cochrane-Springbank area.
Many people from the surrounding area visit, work in or attend school in Cochrane, he said, and at one time there was the feeling it would be appropriate to include them in any mandatory mask bylaw created.
The final draft appearing before council excluded the provision including the Cochrane-Springbank COVID-19 active case numbers, and instead focussed on Cochrane's COVID-19 cases alone to trigger the mandatory face-covering bylaw.
The Town has been watching the numbers closely and receiving updates from Alberta Health Services, Genung said, but in all the “hubbub” of the updated COVID-19 numbers Tuesday, the Town looked at an earlier version of the bylaw when a notice was released indicating Cochrane’s mandatory mask bylaw had been activated.
“Nobody wants to make that kind of mistake. However, the silver lining to me was how quickly we are able to share the message,” Genung said. “It was almost instantaneous."
Genung said the Town is working to better navigate the pandemic and has learned from the incident.
The incorrect notification fueled the debate about the use of masks in preventing the spread of COVID-19, Genung said, but his comments on the subject remain unchanged.
“We need to continue to be kind, be patient with one and other,” Genung said. “Even when we make a mistake— It’s difficult when you have a few people who are responsible for making a decision on behalf of 30,000 residents.”
The error serves as a reminder that cases of COVID-19 are continuing to rise and we all need to take steps to help keep our neighbours safe, Genung said.
“It is a visual reminder that we are still dealing with COVID,” Genung said. “I hope that that was the longest time that we would have to make mandatory the use of masks.”
Under the current bylaw when the Town reports 10 active cases of the virus, the Director of Emergency Management Stacey Loe has the authority to immediately implement the wearing of face-coverings in all public places.
The bylaw will be deactivated if Cochrane reports 10 cases or below for 14 consecutive days.
A sunset clause amendment has been included in the bylaw to ensure the mandatory masks provision expires on Feb. 1, 2021.
Under the bylaw the Town of Cochrane will focus initially on education— However, those not wearing face coverings could face a $100 penalty.
The bylaw will apply to all indoor public places, including businesses the public has access to. The bylaw does not include premises with enrollment or membership requirements.
Businesses are encouraged to place signage created by the Town to educate the public on the use of face coverings.
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 services 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 Town of Cochrane had nine active cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday (Oct. 13) evening.