As of August 1, 2020, people in indoor facilities, amenities and services— including Edmonton Transit Service buses and trains—that are both owned and operated by the City of Edmonton will be required to wear face coverings to keep COVID-19 infection rates low.
The decision does not apply to retail businesses and spaces like malls and private vehicles, vehicles for hire or taxis.
There is a list of individuals and groups that the decision, announced Thursday by Interim City Manager Adam Laughlin at a special meeting of Edmonton City Council, will not apply to. More on that below.
“Our first priority throughout the pandemic has been maintaining everyone’s safety and well-being,” said Laughlin.
“Taking this step will help protect the safety of everyone accessing City services, enjoying our facilities or riding on Edmonton Transit.”
Laughlin said: “We believe it is possible to change behaviour by positive reinforcement and by reminding Edmontonians of the role they each play in keeping each other safe.”
City Council decided to meet again next Wednesday, July 29, 2020, to look at a more wide-ranging face-covering bylaw that would extend beyond City-owned buildings and services.
Helping to restore and grow confidence in the safety of City facilities and services was one reason for the decision to impose the face covering rule as of August 1.
Mayor Don Iveson said:
“I really appreciate that the City Administration team have taken a step that, I believe, a majority of our public and patrons will support, which is to help them look after each other by giving them the confidence to know that the expectation will be, unless you have a valid reason not to…that everyone in the space will be expected, as a matter of community standards, to be wearing a mask.”
Listening to customers
A recent Insight online poll conducted by the City asked current and past transit users what would make them likely to return to public transit.
71: the percent of those who said mandatory masks would likely make them return
31: the percent of those who said mask would be the one thing that would make them likely to return.
In recent video from Edmonton Transit Service, customers put into their own words the reasons they are already wearing face coverings:
“We have listened to the feedback of thousands of Edmontonians and learned of their opinions and preferences about wearing face coverings,” said David Aitken, who leads the City’s COVID-19 Task Team.
“We believe there is an opportunity to improve the culture of safety in the city through this face covering direction.”
Dr. Chris Sikora, who is the Alberta Health Services Medical Officer of Health for Edmonton, attended the City Council meeting virtually. He reminded everyone that masks require some care in applying, removing, washing and storing.
“Masks when appropriately utilized do have to cover the mouth and the nose and have a decent seal, and hand-cleaning before and after applying them, and kept in good order,” Sikora said.
Sikora praised Edmontonians who wear masks properly.
“Many people I see are wearing them correctly and that shows that they are taking that care and attention to protect other individuals,” said Sikora.
Sikora said that care and attention is a precious thing.
“It shows a great deal of civic duty and responsibility to others in the population,” he said.
(Check out more on mask hygiene from Dr. Sikora in his Transforming Edmonton interview from May 2020.)
Here is the list, as of today, of those exempted from the City of Edmonton rule on wearing face coverings in indoor buildings and services, which takes effect August 1.
- Children under age 2
- People with underlying medical conditions or disabilities that inhibit their ability to wear a face covering
- People unable to place, use or remove a face covering safely without assistance
- People eating or drinking in public premises that offer food or beverages
- People engaging in an athletic or fitness activity
- People caregiving for or accompanying a person with a disability where wearing a face covering would hinder the accommodation of the person’s disability
- People who have temporarily removed their face covering to provide or receive a service
Keeping the infection rate low
At a news conference in City Hall after the City Council meeting, Laughlin explained the City’s decision about the imminent rules in its buildings and on its public transit.
“Combining data and feedback from Edmontonians, we concluded that moving from a voluntary to a limited, mandatory requirement for wearing face coverings would support our efforts to keep the infection rate low,” said Laughlin.
Currently, there are 22.7 cases per 100,000 population of COVID-19 in Edmonton. When the rate gets to 50 cases per 100,000, the Province of Alberta moves the area from an open to a watch status.
This was the active case rate on Thursday, July 23, 2020, in a slide shared with Edmonton City Council.
The enforcement and language question
At the news conference, Laughlin said the City’s general approach with the face covering rule on its property will be to educate before warning or taking other measures.
“That’s been the approach we’ve taken in the pandemic, and Edmontonians have responded,” Laughlin said, citing the successful strategy of drawing attention to physical-distancing hotspots like river valley staircases and some skateparks in the past.
Laughlin also said the preferred wording—face covering—reflects the City’s awareness that other kinds of coverings may be chosen by Edmontonians for a variety of reasons, including cost.
City Administration will spend time between now and August 1 poring over implications of the August 1 rule, including whether face coverings might be temporarily supplied.
Editor’s note: pic at the top of the post shows Interim City Manager Adam Laughlin in a news conference in the Heritage Room at City Hall, Edmonton, July 23, 2020.