BANFF – Many residents of the tourist town are calling on the Town of Banff to follow through with mandating use of masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Resident Lori Hoffman is worried about a COVID-19 outbreak in Banff, where eight active cases were recently reported by Alberta Health Services since the pandemic hit Alberta in mid-March.
In a letter to town council, she said when grocery shopping or walking about town, she has observed social distancing practices or wearing masks are not followed for the most part.
“A COVID-19 outbreak in Banff is not a matter of if, but when,” she said, adding that making masks mandatory at least in indoor spaces would be a good move to protect public health.
“I do recognize that some people view this item as an infringement of their rights and it is a difficult item to go forward with, but in the interest of Banff's health, many residents believe it is the right decision.”
At council’s direction, administration is drafting a bylaw to mandate the use of masks on the 100 and 200 blocks of the Banff Avenue pedestrian zone and publicly accessible places such as grocery stores, hotels and restaurants.
Public input will be welcome as part of council’s consideration of the proposed bylaw, which is unlikely to go before council for discussion and debate until sometime in August.
Administration has indicated time is needed to do research, including legal advice, particularly given this proposed local legislation to mandate masks would be a first for Alberta.
The Town of Banff, which estimates about five to 15 per cent of people are wearing masks downtown, is handing out free masks to tourists on the street seven days a week, thanks to a shipment of 100,000 masks from the province.
Brittany Watson, who recently opened the Radiant with her husband Sebastian Hutchings, is concerned about the lack of mask use in town, noting she has loved ones who are part of the vulnerable and immunocompromised community.
In her letter to the municipality, she said wearing a mask is the single most effective way to reduce and slow the spread of coronavirus.
“I'm shocked at the blatant disregard by those who are not heeding the recommendations about non-medical mask use,” she said.
Watson said Banff’s streets, sidewalks, and shops are getting busier by the day.
“It is disconcerting to see our town so busy with so few people wearing masks,” she said.
“It makes the cost of doing business seem a bit too steep if welcoming visitors is endangering our small community,” she added.
“Not making mask use mandatory in public spaces, in my opinion, is putting the business of tourism ahead of our small, rural community.”
Watson said it might be easy to forget about a global pandemic when in this paradise – but it’s important to not forget COVID-19 has been devastating to the community.
“We have essentially lost all of our cultural professionals in the layoffs at Banff Centre,” she said.
“We all know friends and relatives that have lost employment, businesses, and perhaps family to this pandemic,” she added.
“It is all of our responsibility to take the necessary steps to slow/reduce the spread of COVID-19.”
In their letter, Alison Milroy and Ken Waterhouse thanked the Town of Banff staff and council for the strong leadership shown from the beginning of this COVID-19 crisis.
They are calling on council to mandate use of masks indoors and outdoors – the 100, 200 and 300 blocks of Banff Avenue, malls, as well as grocery stores and anywhere else where it is impossible for people to stay two metres apart.
“Let us be proactive New Zealand not reactive USA. We are in the fortunate position to learn through observance and we truly believe that if face masks are not implemented now, we will be forced to do so down the road with a much greater toll taken on our businesses, residents and visitors,” they wrote.
“We have been walking on Banff Avenue and on a sunny day. It is no better than Florida beaches that have made headlines on global news stations.”
Banff Resident Dorian Shepherd Bea said she is also concerned about the lack of face masks in town, noting council’s decision to hire COVID-19 ambassadors to hand out free masks is not the only answer.
“Both indoors and on crowded streets, there are few masks to be seen,” she wrote in a letter to council.
“I do not believe the availability of masks to the general public is why they aren't being worn. Without rules about wearing masks in public, they simply will not be worn.”
This week, the United Nurses of Alberta called on the provincial government to immediately implement mandatory face masks province-wide. For now, Premier Jason Kenney has said he’s not going to do that.
Many Canadian cities like Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary and the province of Quebec have made wearing masks