Update: Face coverings being adopted, exemption cards strike a balance: Aitken

Posted: August 11, 5:30pm | Updated: August 12, 4:18pm

The City of Edmonton has stopped distributing face covering exemption cards through its recreation centres as of 3 p.m., August 12. 

“We trust that those with legitimate exemptions have been able to obtain a card up to this point,” the City has announced. “We are reassessing the program and distribution mechanisms for those with a legitimate exemption and who may want a card but were unable to pick one up in person.”

“At this time, we are unable to say when this alternate distribution will be in place and when cards will be available again. In the meantime, cards distributed between August 8-12 remain a valid means to communicate an individual has a condition exempting them from the bylaw.”

The City of Edmonton’s COVID Task Team point person said the overwhelming number of Edmontonians able to wear face coverings are wearing face coverings. 

“The pandemic has shown that the large majority of Edmontonians care about one other and are doing the right thing,” said David Aitken. 

“We trust that compassion will continue as those who can wear masks do so, and those who cannot are treated with understanding.”

Aitken made his comments at a news conference at City Hall on Tuesday, August 11, against a backdrop of public commentary, some of which questioned the rationale for face-covering exemption cards. 

Face coverings to lower threat of COVID spread

A City bylaw now requires people in Edmonton to wear a face covering in indoor public places and public vehicles to lower the threat of COVID-19 spread in the city. 

As of noon on Tuesday, August 11, the numbers indicated Edmontonians are on board.

Aitken cited a city-wide trend of “about 85 percent” of people wearing face coverings as required. And more than 90 percent on transit and 96 percent in City of Edmonton recreation facilities.

The bylaw allows for certain exemptions, included in this summary article.  Over the weekend, the City began to distribute exemption cards to people in those categories as a way to signal their situation while in public.

Trust to do the right thing

Since then, the City has faced criticism around the exemption card option, said Aitken. 

“The most important point I want to make is that the program is based on trust,” said Aitken. “An honour system that Edmontonians will do the right thing.” 

As of noon on Tuesday, August 11, the City has handed out 3,866 cards, which covers less than one half of one percent of Edmonton’s population, said Aitken. 

Photos show Task Team chair David Aitken, City Hall, Edmonton, August 11, 2020

“We know that this program is not without its flaws, but on balance, we believe it strikes the right mix of elements that compassionately support those who feel they need some way of signalling their exemption,” said Aitken. 

Most Edmontonians do the right thing 

Aitken said reports of some people requesting the exemption cards simply as a way to avoid wearing a mask or face covering are “unfortunate and disappointing.” 

The Edmonton way

Aitken explained the balance the City is trying to achieve with the exemption card option. 

It is supported by a Gender-Based Analysis. Aitken: “This inclusion commitment aims to support a broad range of Edmontonians with different needs.” 

It responds to feedback from people who cannot wear face coverings. Aitken: “We heard they were being confronted and in some cases denied service. This is not the Edmonton way.”

It respects privacy and the health care system. Aitken: “We believed that asking questions about individuals’ health status was not appropriate and we would have no way to evaluate that status if we required proof—such as a doctor’s note. Additionally, requiring people to get proof of a health or medical condition puts an unnecessary burden on the healthcare system.” 

Final word

Aitken closed his comments by repeating his theme. 

“If there is no impediment to you wearing one safely, please wear a face covering or mask,” he said. 

Editor’s note: check back here for the updated information on face coverings in Edmonton.