Calgary council voted on Monday to rescind its mandatory COVID-19 mask bylaw.
Coun. Druh Farrell had withheld consent for third reading of the bylaw change, delaying its immediate implementation, so a special meeting of council was held later the same afternoon to make the change official.
Revoking the bylaw brings the city in line with most other municipalities across Alberta as well as new provincial rules.
The bylaw requiring people to wear a face covering in all indoor public spaces went into effect on Aug. 1, 2020.
The provincial government dropped most COVID-19 related health restrictions on July 1, as part of its summer reopening plan.
Last month, a bid to rescind the local mask bylaw was defeated by council on a 7-7 vote, but said they'd revisit it in early July.
The city's administration, which had previously recommended keeping the mandatory mask rule in place until July 31, asked council Monday to rescind it immediately.
The administration suggested that with a growing uptake of COVID-19 vaccines and decreasing infection rates, hospitalizations and positivity rates, the bylaw could be withdrawn.
Nenshi has been advising caution on rescinding the mask bylaw, but supported the move on Monday, citing data showing declining rates and hospitalizations.
"The debate has been characterised like it's an incredible clash of dark and light, and really we're talking about the difference between July 5 and July 30," he said, in reference to waiting until after the Calgary Stampede to rescind the bylaw.
"Ultimately, I'm comfortable with our administration's recommendations that the numbers are looking good enough — we'll probably get to 50 per cent second dose this week — that the numbers are looking good enough that July 5 is not that much worse than July 30."
Last week, Nenshi pointed out that Israel has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world but concerns about the rising number of delta variant cases resulted in it bringing back some mask rules.
"Nobody wants to go backwards. Nobody is saying, 'Let's keep the masks in forever and ever.' But we are saying: 'Stomp out the fire,'" said Nenshi.
On Monday, he said it would be politically difficult, but not impossible, to reimpose a mask bylaw if the city is hit with a fourth wave.
While half of city council wanted the bylaw lifted on July 1, Ward 5 Coun. George Chahal said he wanted to keep it in place a short time longer.
"If we eliminate the mask bylaw too early and a spike occurs after the Calgary Stampede, my council colleagues and I would be at least partly responsible for not exercising caution," said Chahal.
He, along with councillors Druh Farrell, Gian-Carlo Carra and Jyoti Gondek, voted to keep the bylaw in place on Monday.
Gondek said she would have preferred delaying repeal to the end of the month, giving a bit of breathing room after the quick removal of provincial restrictions.
"From the people that I've spoken with, they would have appreciated that little bit of easing.… Add yes, because we're hosting one of the biggest events in the country, I think it would have been prudent," she said of the coming Stampede.
Masks still required in city facilities, for now
Calgary city council also voted to maintain masks as a policy, though not a legal requirement, in city facilities until the city manager can implement a face coverings policy for publicly accessible city buildings like City Hall or recreation facilities.
Nenshi said businesses in the city are also welcome to maintain a mask policy and urged Calgarians to respect those decisions.
"If they have rules that you have to wear a shirt, you respect that. If they have rules that you have to wear a mask, you respect that," he said.
"I really encourage everyone not to take it out on the retail workers. It's not their decision or their job and it's not fair to them."
Coun. Jeromy Farkas, who pushed to end the mask bylaw in time for the end of most provincial restrictions on July 1, said he was happy with Monday's vote, but he did have concerns over the decision to maintain masks at city facilities for now.
"If you don't approve of a business's process, you can actually vote with your feet, you can go elsewhere, you can take your business elsewhere," he said.
"However, I do have quite significant concerns about the city in terms of being the only one providing some services. So I'd want to make sure that there's reasonable accommodation in place."
Council's earlier decision to keep the bylaw in place even as few as four days beyond the dropping of most provincial health restrictions seemed to raise the ire of Premier Jason Kenney.
During a speech on Friday in Calgary, the premier was critical of council's reluctance to dump the bylaw in line with the province's move.
"There appear to be a bunch of experts on the delta variant at city hall," said Kenney.
However the province is exercising some caution of its own.
Since the last council vote on the subject, Kenney's United Conservative Party government has decided its mask mandate would remain in place on public transportation.
This includes municipal transit systems, taxis and ride shares.