Face coverings for all seasons: Mandatory mask bylaw likely to last through winter, spring

·3 min read

The City of Edmonton plans to extend its mandatory face-covering bylaw to May 31, 2021, five months past the current end date of Dec. 31, a city report shows.

City managers will request the extension at council's community and public services committee meeting next week.

Face coverings are part of the "ongoing need for public health protection measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic," the report says.

Peace officers enforce the municipal bylaw and have focused on educating the public and raising awareness about the importance of wearing masks.

Since Aug. 1, when the bylaw came into force, they've given out 1,873 verbal mask warnings and four tickets. Tickets are $100.

The city also keeps a tally of complaints related to masks and face coverings. There have been 1,472 lodged since Aug. 1.

However, the city says most people are heeding the rule, with 97 per cent compliance on public transit, in taxis, recreation centres and indoor public spaces.

People on the LRT were recorded as having the lowest compliance rate. In the last week of October, 84 per cent of riders were wearing some kind of face covering.

City of Edmonton
City of Edmonton

The city stresses that masks are an added layer of protection. When combined with physical distancing and proper hand hygiene, they are an effective means of preventing the transmission of COVID-19 by symptomatic and asymptomatic carriers.

A mask may help protect the person wearing it, the city adds.

Faux pas: under nose, plastic shields

Though the city has seen a high rate of compliance, many people are still not wearing masks properly.

Dr. Allison Carroll, a pediatric respirologist with the University of Alberta, said on a daily basis she notices people with their noses exposed.

"That significantly decreases the amount of protection that you're getting from masks," Carroll said.

"I see a lot of people with masks pulled down over their face, like perhaps resting on their chin, and that's a potential for increased contamination as well."

Carroll reminds people not to leave masks lying around, as that's a potential risk of contamination.

Plastic face shields on their own don't work, Carroll stressed.

"We need to be able to cover the mouth and the nose very securely," she said. "I have in the community seen people with only the plastic face shield and that will not stop the spread of virus, nor will it protect you significantly from the viruses."

Nancy Jacobson, a legal supervisor in the city's legal services, said face shields are not permitted by the bylaw.

"We agree with the opinion that they are not effective to prevent transmission," Jacobson said in an email statement.

Complaints related to businesses where staff are not wearing an appropriate face covering should be reported to 311, she added.

Several exemptions are included in the bylaw:

  • people unable to place or remove a face covering without assistance

  • people with mental or physical concerns

  • patrons eating or drinking in designated areas, or as part of a religious or spiritual ceremony

  • when exercising

  • when assisting someone with a disability who would be hindered if the caregiver is wearing a face covering

  • customers receiving a service such as dental work

  • children under two years old

  • employee-only spaces where physical barriers are installed between employees and patrons

The bylaw does not apply to schools, health care facilities, hospitals and child-care centres.

Council passed the bylaw in July after much debate, with councillors Jon Dziadyk, Mike Nickel and Tony Caterina voting against it.

As of Oct. 31, several municipalities around Edmonton have mandatory face-covering bylaws with varying expiry dates, including Spruce Grove, Stony Plain, St. Albert, Strathcona County, Fort Saskatchewan Sturgeon County, Beaumont and Leduc County.

@natashariebe