November 27th, 2020

Coaldale council rejects mask bylaw

By Jensen, Randy on October 30, 2020.

Coaldale town council rejected a mandatory face covering bylaw and have instead voted to help implement a local citizen awareness program. Herald photo by Ian Martens @IMartensHerald

Tim Kalinowski

Lethbridge Herald – Coaldale

Coaldale Town Council strongly suggested local residents and business owners should consider wearing a mask or face covering when out in public as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the region, but stopped short of implementing a mandatory face covering bylaw during Monday’s council meeting.

Town council was left to make the decision without any recommendation from the community’s emergency management advisory committee after the members of that body deadlocked on the issue and were unable to come to a consensus on a recommendation one way or the other.

Seeing no recommendation coming forward from the Town’s emergency advisers, Coun. Briane Simpson created an informal Facebook poll on the issue on her page to seek input from residents. The Coaldale Chamber of Commerce also conducted an informal poll of its members.

Simpson asked, “As a Coaldale resident and/or business owner in Coaldale, what do you feel the Town should do about a mask bylaw?”

She gave three options for answers: Create a bylaw similar to Lethbridge’s; create an awareness campaign instead of a bylaw; or have things remain as they are now.

Simpson admitted the problems such a poll might have.

“I cannot guarantee everyone who responded were citizens of Coaldale,” she said. “In fact a few people stated otherwise.”

Nonetheless, she reported to council, of those who responded 31 respondents were in favour of the bylaw, another 17 were in favour of creating a local awareness campaign, and 304 answered things should be left as they are.

On the Chamber of Commerce poll 71 business owners responded, with 16 in favour and 55 opposed. The chamber did advocate, however, for an increased awareness campaign around COVID-19 so community members were reminded about the importance of social distancing and the potential benefits of wearing masks if they choose to do so.

Seeing the strong poll results against the masking bylaw, Coun. Doreen Lloyd put forth the motion that council reject a mandatory masking bylaw in Coaldale.

“I would like to thank all the people that responded,” she responded. “This definitely sounds like it is resounding that they don’t want this.”

Coun. Roger Hohm disagreed with Lloyd’s motion, saying council should be putting faith in medical advice and not informal social media polls.

“I agree there are a lot of people who certainly don’t like face masks for whatever reasons, but I certainly would like to follow the advice of our head medical officer in the province of Alberta, our Canadian health officer, who all basically state that masks will protect both yourself and others during this pandemic,” he said. “For me, I will get over it. I will wear a mask because I want to make sure not just myself is safe, but my mother is safe, and others who I may come in contact with are safe. And I will take the advice of the medical doctors over others.”

Simpson responded.

“I think it is important to notice that Dr. Hinshaw’s recommendations are to wear a mask when six feet distance cannot be obtained,” she said.

She also proposed a friendly amendment to Lloyd’s motion that council reject a mandatory masking bylaw, but also help implement a local citizen awareness program, as outlined by the Chamber of Commerce, if they do.

Lloyd accepted this amendment as friendly and adopted it as part of her motion.

Coun. Jacen Abrey, the only member of council with an emergency services background, said it was more complex than either passing a bylaw or not passing a bylaw. He said, while he personally recommends mask usage in public areas, part of the problem he saw with the Town passing its own temporary masking bylaw, as Lethbridge did earlier this year, is there so far has been no move from the province or the chief medical officer of health to make masks mandatory province-wide, leaving municipalities out on a limb over the issue.

“If things do continue to worsen, I think as municipalities that pressure should be put on the province to put in the law or the mandate for masks,” he said. “Because it is a lot easier to implement as a law coming from the province than it is as a bylaw coming from the municipality.”

He felt the Town of Coaldale alongside other municipalities should be pressing this point with the provincial government in order to avoid the threat of another potential health lockdown in Alberta if COVID cases continue to escalate at their current rate.

“Rather than shutting down (the province),” he said, “implement the practice they recommend of six feet distancing and masks, because the spread rate if you have a mask and are six feet away is less than 0.05 per cent when you are in direct contact with a positive case. I will take that chance rather than six feet away, and having a 50- or 60-per-cent chance of contracting it.”

Mayor Kim Craig left the door open to revisiting the issue once again with town council if citizens don’t respond positively to the community’s information campaign, and don’t start taking public health advice more seriously in Coaldale, and if local cases continue to rise.

With that food for thought, Craig called for the vote on Lloyd’s motion, which passed by a vote of 6-1. Hohm was the only vote against.

As of Thursday afternoon, Lethbridge County, (which statistically reports with the Town of Coaldale), had 26 active COVID cases, and remained under a provincial COVID Watch advisory.

Follow @TimKalHerald on Twitter

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