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Calgary rescinds its COVID-19 mask bylaw

Calgary’s mask bylaw is now gone, putting Calgary in alignment with provincial rules.

The matter was discussed at Calgary city council Monday, as prescribed when they first broached the matter on June 21.

City of Calgary administration recommended the bylaw be repealed, citing improved metrics showing the burden on the health system and potential spread was in check.

The city did keep a mask policy in place for city-owned and operated facilities and vehicles only. This could be lifted by the city manager. The recommendations were approved.

There was an administrative hiccup, however. Coun. Druh Farrell voted against having third reading (which requires unanimous consent), meaning they’d have to bring the matter back to a future meeting. Council held a special meeting Monday afternoon to give third reading to the bylaw. It just needed a signature after that – which it got.

Trending in the right direction

Calgary Emergency Management Agency Chief Sue Henry said the second dose vaccinations, overall single vaccination rate, infection rate, hospitalizations and ICU and positivity rate have all trended in the right direction.

“When we take these four different indicators into consideration, the trends are definitely encouraging after so many months of challenges with COVID-19 in our city,” Chief Henry said.

Even with the repeal, Calgary will still follow Alberta masking rules. This includes use on transit and in taxis and rideshares. It also includes wearing them at health locations and continuing care centres.

Businesses in Calgary can have their own rules and can refuse service based on their mask policies, the city said. Still, retail operations and businesses like bars and restaurants do not require masks any longer.

Chief Henry said they want everyone to understand that even past this decision, people may still want to wear masks. They will be communicating that with the public.

“COVID is going to be a part of our lives for the foreseeable future, and we need to start to make that switch, so that people are comfortable living with COVID and being around COVID,” Chief Henry said.

“That includes respecting the right of individuals to wear a face covering if they are comfortable with that, as well as not wear a face covering.”

Council debate on masks

The weekend prior to Monday’s meeting, Coun. George Chahal posted to Twitter that he wouldn’t be supporting the rescinding.  

Data presented at Monday’s meeting still showed COVID-19 rates several times higher in north and east Calgary than in other areas of the city. Though, later, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said that the concerns aren’t in upper northeast Calgary. It’s east Calgary between 32 Avenue N and 32 Avenue S.

Overall infection rates, and those in certain areas of Calgary. CITY OF CALGARY PRESENTATION

Chahal did ask about how the low second dose rates in those areas were scaled as “comparatively” good. Those rates were compared with other parts of Alberta, Chief Henry said. He said during debate that he would prefer Calgary city council exercise caution while people become fully vaccinated. It’s a concern for him, for his area residents and especially for kids.

“I don’t want to see those kids, not being able to go back to school and not being able to enjoy the sports and activities that may play because we just took more risk,” he said.

Data driven: Coun. Colley-Uruqhart

In introducing the motion to repeal, Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart the data that’s unfolded in two weeks was reassuring. She said it wasn’t necessarily about aligning with the province.

“It’s respectfully not about the province. It’s about our city, and, and our responsibility as the governing body here to try to do our very best in acting in the best interest of our citizens,” she said.

“That’s why I’m supporting rescinding this bylaw today, because these key metrics are really important and now we can justify exactly what we’re going to do.”

Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra said he figured he’d be in the minority on not rescinding. He said the proof is there that masks are beneficial.

“We’ve crushed the flu; we crushed the cold. I haven’t had a cold in forever,” he said.

“I mean the reality is that wearing the mask is smart. Everybody agrees.”

Coun. Jeff Davison said they need to trust public health officials. Though, he and his family aren’t ready to get rid of their masks, he respects that others are more comfortable.

“Today should really be a day of cautious optimism for citizens,” he said.

“It’s not going to be a day of ripping the Band-Aid off. It’s not going to be a day of celebration.”

Still nervous, said Mayor Nenshi

Mayor Nenshi said the last thing he wants to do is put the bylaw back in place.

“I’m still nervous because I just got a text this morning saying that in the country of Portugal, when they removed all restrictions two weeks ago, they now have an overnight curfew and masking is required everywhere,” he said.

“This follows what happened in Israel a couple of weeks before that.”

He supported the data and trusts Chief Henry.

Ultimately, he said though there are still concerns, we need to move on.

“We have to move to a world where this is manageable. Where it’s in end-emic, not pandemic, and ultimately we have to do that,” he said.