BANFF – Wearing face masks could become mandatory in Banff as early as July 31.
Banff council will discuss the issue at two separate meetings Monday (July 27) – at the governance and finance committee in the morning and the regular meeting of council in the afternoon.
The proposed bylaw speaks to mandatory masks in indoor public places and in the pedestrian zone on Banff Avenue. If passed, the bylaw could come into force on July 31 to give local businesses and the municipality time to prepare for implementation.
“It is unusual to do three readings of a bylaw like this in one meeting – but sometimes circumstances require unusual actions,” said Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen.
In neighbouring Canmore, the municipality is monitoring the evolving COVID-19 situation and discussing various options as active cases province-wide continue to rise.
As of July 24 – the latest available statistics by Alberta Health Services – the number of active cases in Alberta was up to 1,341.
“We are considering having a mandatory mask bylaw before council for debate at a special meeting of council in the first week of August,” said Councillor Joanna McCallum in a Facebook post.
“One of the key issues will be enforcement, so we are exploring the best way to manage enforcement either through individual compliance or, more likely, compliance at the business level.”
On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global pandemic related to the spread of the COVID-19 virus. On March 17, the Alberta government declared a public health emergency in the province, which was lifted on June 15.
In the following days, the government announced its economic relaunch strategy for the province.
Banff Town Manager Kelly Gibson said since that time the pandemic has continued to be a serious health risk and Albertans have been asked to keep following health and safety guidelines provided by the Alberta government.
“Despite this, the number of COVID cases in the province is rising and many municipalities are considering additional measures to ensure their residents remain safe,” he said a report to council for the July 27 meeting.
While maintaining a physical distance of at least two metres and washing hands are the most effective strategies to decrease transmission of COVID-19 in a community, Gibson said wearing a mask is also an important added measure.
Yet, he said, even with a strong recommendation by all orders of government, including WHO and Alberta’s and Canada’s top public health officials, people have not been routinely wearing masks when in public.
“There has been a noticeable increase in traffic volumes in the town of Banff as the summer and the provincial relaunch strategy has progressed,” Gibson said.
“Tourism in Banff continues to increase as more amenities reopen and social distancing measures have become increasing difficult to maintain.”
In Banff, there have been a total of 14 cases, with eight currently active, according to the latest information provided by Alberta Health Services Sunday (July 26).
The Town of Banff has received many submissions from residents in support of the mandatory mask bylaw.
Banff resident Laurie Hardingham said she is concerned about crowding and a general disregard for public health recommendations.
“I read on the Alberta Health webpage there are now eight active cases. There were three two days ago,” she said in her letter to council dated July 20.
“I fear we are becoming a COVID-19 hotspot … wee need mandatory masks and mandatory self-distancing throughout Banff, and strict enforcement.”
Eric Richer, who has lived in Banff for more than 40 years, said he was very appreciative of how the Town handled the initial COVID-19 outbreak, but said now is the time for mandatory mask wearing.
“We are now at eight cases in a week. Statistically we are going to have a death almost guaranteed in our area,” he wrote in a letter to council.
“Given what is known about the spread of the virus, if more restrictive measures are not implemented immediately, we face a potential explosion of cases.”
Resident Alec Sweeney has also petitioned council for increased safety measures.
“With an alarming increase in cases in Alberta over the last few days, it is clear our efforts are slipping and we are again in danger,” he said.
“With asymptotic testing appointments currently back logged, and an alarming absence of masks and safety measures in town, I cannot help but think we are not doing enough to keep our residents and visitors safe.”
Gibson said enforcement of this proposed bylaw will be challenging, but added administration will focus first on education, including a communications plan, and then enforcement.
He said the proposed bylaw only requires businesses to post signage near the establishment’s entrance advising masks are a must, as well as verbally remind people that face masks must be worn in indoor public spaces and the pedestrian zone.
“Local business will not be expected to enforce this bylaw by refusing service or forcing individuals to wear masks while in their establishments,” Gibson said.