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EDITORIAL: With COVID-19 still present, it's too soon to remove masks

The Alberta government has struggled with decisions and seen their approval ratings wane throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s of little surprise to see them continue to rush as if the pandemic is a thing of the past when the provincial mask mandate

The Alberta government has struggled with decisions and seen its approval ratings wane throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s of little surprise to see them continue to rush as if the pandemic is a thing of the past when the provincial mask mandate was lifted on July 1.

While the second dose of vaccinations are increasing – 44.8 per cent of Albertans 12 and older being fully vaccinated on Canada Day – a more cautious approach should’ve been heeded.

As the highly contagious Delta variant is running wild in previously believed safe countries that are now reintroducing public health measures, it’s a suspect time to lift an easy measure to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has slowly loosened some recommendations, but are continuing to emphasize the wearing of masks while indoors for people not fully vaccinated.

The World Health Organization is more adamant, stressing the need to wear masks indoors when in public regardless of being partially or fully vaccinated.

The Alberta government’s decision now puts municipalities in an unenviable position. Do they keep their own mask bylaw – one that’s nearly impossible to enforce without the province’s support – or do they wave the white flag?

With limited resources to enforce or educate, many communities have dropped the bylaw or left only minimal restrictions.

Airdrie, Cochrane, Edmonton, Calgary and now Banff and Canmore have allowed residents to remove their masks. The provincial rules still enforce mask-wearing on public transit, taxis and ride-sharing, while Calgary requires masks when in the city's buildings and city-owned vehicles.

Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen wisely pointed out with the province having moved into stage three of reopening on July 1, the effectiveness of masking dwindles if both levels of government aren’t on board.

She, and many others, noted how masking has helped keep confirmed cases down and wondered about the pace Alberta is taking in removing public health restrictions.

At the Canmore council meeting when their mask bylaw was rescinded, Counillor Joanna McCallum emphasized the pandemic is still going on and many people are still waiting for their second vaccination, especially in the age groups that are 59 and under that make up the workforce.

As other municipalities in the province have removed their own temporary mask bylaws, Bow Valley communities would’ve been in the awkward position of having visitors from other communities who may not have their own mask bylaws only to then visit an area that does.

Many residents in the province have expressed concern about the pace of the reopening, particularly compared to other provinces.

Rachel Notley, the leader of the opposition and NDP, cracked the pace of reopening may have been based on science or looked at the Calgary Stampede schedule and worked backwards.

The Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association also warned the plan was too quick and expressed concerns, particularly holding a major event so soon after reopening.

But the show, however, will go on.

Alberta was the last province to institute mandatory masking and the first to remove it in Canada.

While the province dragged its feet on the issue last winter, municipal councils were practically begging the Alberta government to step in.

At different times in both the second and third waves, the province had the dubious honour of having the highest rate of infection per capita in both the country and continent as hospitalizations threatened to overwhelm the health sector and field hospitals were hastily planned.

More than 2,300 Albertans have died from COVID-19 and about 230,000 people have had confirmed cases. Lessons that should’ve been learned the hard way shouldn’t be ignored.

As the race to vaccinate continues and variants threaten people in different ways, all measures to help the safety of residents should be used as opposed to being abandoned.