OHS Canada Magazine

Edmonton may keep mask bylaw until 70 per cent of its population fully vaccinated


By Daniela Germano

Edmonton’s mayor says he is considering a request from a doctors group that he and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi keep masking bylaws in place until at least 70 per cent of their cities’ eligible populations have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Don Iveson said during a media briefing Tuesday that he’s concerned about lifting masking bylaws in lockstep with the final stage of the Alberta government’s reopening plan.

Last week, the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association sent a letter to both mayors that expressed concern about the pace of the province’s plan, given that a variant first identified in India is able to infect two-thirds of people who have only had a single dose.

Interactive map breaks down Alberta vaccine coverage

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“This reckless relaxing of precautions and allowing super-spreader events to take place is likely to jeopardize the smooth reopening of schools and workplaces in the fall,” the association wrote in a Thursday letter addressed to the mayors.

Iveson said the doctors’ groups that have issued warnings about reopening plans “have been right every time.”

“So their track record speaks for itself and I take their input very seriously.”

Nenshi said in an email Tuesday that Calgary city council plans to discuss its face-covering bylaw and is weighing all options.

“The safety and protection of our community remains our priority, and will guide our decisions,” he said.

Iveson said he and Nenshi have agreed to keep in touch as both city councils debate the issue.

In Calgary, there is also a debate about the timing of masking bylaws and the Calgary Stampede that is expected to start in early July.

“Albertans may travel to the Stampede for something to do, so it’s also by proxy an issue for our citizens and for our doctors,” Iveson said.

“If people get sick and come home or if things get bad in Calgary and they need to overflow to here, those are all knock-on impacts to our community and to our health-care workers.”

Alberta’s ‘open for summer’ plan unveiled by premier

The province has said Stage 3 of its reopening plan, which could happen as early as June 24, would see all health restrictions lifted as long as 70 per cent of Albertans 12 and over had received at least one shot.

Premier Jason Kenney has said the province is ready to go ahead Thursday with its second stage, which allows up to 20 people at outdoor gatherings, weddings and funeral services, but still bans indoor gatherings.

It also allows indoor recreation, entertainment and other settings to open at a third of the venue’s fire code occupancy. Gyms and fitness studios can open for solo and drop-in activities, as well indoor fitness classes with proper distancing. Restaurants can have a maximum of six people per table, indoors or outdoors.

Outdoor public gatherings such as concerts and festivals can have up to 150 people.

To reach Stage 2, 60 per cent of eligible Albertans had to have at least one shot. Kenney noted that about 67 per cent had already received one dose.

But he also said 115,000 more people need to get their first shot within the next week if the final stage is to go ahead later this month.

There were 100,000 bookings for the next week, Kenney added.

The province reported 139 new cases of COVID-19 and three new deaths Tuesday.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said 336 people are in hospital due to the virus, including 85 in intensive care.

There were 4,431 active cases provincewide — the lowest number Alberta has seen since March 9.

She said 15 per cent of Albertans are fully immunized, but confirmed that the pace of first dose vaccinations has slowed — particularly for Albertans between the ages of 12 and 34.

Hinshaw said about five per cent of the variants identified in Alberta last week were the highly contagious one that was first identified in India. It is now driving a wave of new cases in the United Kingdom.

Recent studies have indicated that a single dose of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna is about 33 per cent effective against that variant.

While Hinshaw said that variant “is a very small proportion” of Alberta’s total cases, the province is watching it closely as it considers the timing of second doses.

Currently, anyone vaccinated with their first shot in April can book a second dose starting June 14 and those vaccinated in May can book starting June 28.

Hinshaw defended the reopening plan, saying that “the absence of legal requirements doesn’t mean that we stop protecting each other.”

“We still need to be courteous, respect each other’s needs and that could mean masking in certain settings, even if it is not legally required,” she said.