Perhaps hoping face masks won’t be required by then, regional councillors this week made them mandatory in public spaces through May 31, 2021.
The revised face-covering bylaw also applies to locations such as inside taxi cabs and apartment building lobbies not specified in the current regulations.
The existing bylaw, in force since July, was due to expire on September 30.
Councillors meeting Tuesday heard from a variety of delegates, some of them offering up internet-based conspiracy theories opposing mask, before deciding on the extension. Of the 14 speakers addressing council, just two supported the extension.
Among those opposed were residents suggesting the public health department was receiving funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as citing widespread abuse of power by local bureaucrats to instill fear in the community.
Not swayed, councillors agreed there was an insurmountable amount of evidence supporting the fact masks have proven to be effective in the fight to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The upcoming cold and flu season was also a factor, as those viruses could prove taxing on people on top of an uptick in coronavirus cases, which would also put added stress on the health-care system, suggested Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, the region’s medical officer of health.
“It’s not really possible to predict if a second wave would occur in the fall, for example, or if it might occur later in the winter. What we do know, however, is that influenza circulates most frequently in the fall, winter and spring, along with other respiratory viruses that circulate seasonally. It is even more important to keep COVID-19 numbers low during a flu season, as cases of influenza and other respiratory viruses can put additional strain on the health-care system. So, this could reduce our ability to best care for people who become seriously ill,” she said.
Emphasizing the fact, she is not an “anti-masker,” Coun. Sue Foxton raised concerns about setting a date so far into the future, requesting a review be done somewhere along the line to see if the bylaw is still appropriate.
“It is not a political decision that I’m asking for here. I’m asking that we do a review, and that we make the people aware of where the review is and when it’s going to happen. I’m not inviting delegates to come to speak on it or anything else, it’s just a staff report, which we get all the time,” said Foxton.
Her colleagues ended up supporting her motion.
The new bylaw attempts to clarify some gray areas in the initial document, including specifically addressing taxi cabs. Although some companies made masks mandatory in their vehicles, there was no enforceable law. The same ambiguity for apartment common areas was addressed.
Officials hope that clearer guidelines reduce the approximately 700 complaints and calls received following the first bylaw.
Councillors were unable, however, to come to a consensus on making masks mandatory in religious institutions. Places of worship are currently limited to 30 per cent capacity, but masks are not required.
In response to some delegates’ stories about being ridiculed for being unable to wear a mask, Coun. Sandy Shantz suggested the inclusion of more guidance for such cases.
“In terms of education of the public and sending out the message to just be kind, I think we need to be kind to each other, as we go through all of this. I would suggest that could be an underlying theme, when we’re doing the education, not just that you need to wear a mask, but let’s be kind to each other in doing of [so].”