I am very disappointed by Airdrie City council’s decision to not mandate masks in the city. Council missed an opportunity to protect the community and help slow the spread of this terrible pandemic.
Mayor Peter Brown’s statement seemed to shift the responsibility of this decision to a different level of government, even though several major cities in Canada have made masks mandatory. Saying that councillors are not medical experts is not a valid excuse – councillors make decisions on roads, traffic control, protective services, sanitation and other City functions without being experts in those fields.
While I appreciate there may not be medical experts on the City's staff, credible experts have provided information and opinions on this topic for many months and have informed other municipalities on this issue. Dr. Raj Bhardwaj, a University of Calgary professor, has said increased mask usage has the potential to save lives. According to Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "If we could get everybody to wear a mask right now, I think in four [to] eight weeks we could bring this epidemic under control.”
Brown also said elected officials should not be making decisions about public health, but this seems to contradict council's authorization of public dollars to be used for the Blue Zone Project, which is a public health initiative.
Watching the council meeting, it appeared councillors were swayed by an almost even split in public opinion on this issue. I found it interesting that Brown used the word "information" to describe communications sent from citizens to the City. Those letters and emails are not information, they are opinions. Leadership means doing what is best for the community using sound judgement, facts and input from experts, not public opinion.
Whenever the Alberta government announces a new phase of reopening, some people interpret it to mean the threat of COVID-19 is gone. That is not the case; the threat still exists, but the health care system can handle the cases if the curve remains flat. Even if the number of people permitted to gather increases, social distancing is still required. Unfortunately, people may hear they can now gather in larger numbers but ignore social distancing rules, which leads to a spike in cases. Masks are one more layer of protection if the economy is to stay open.
The number of cases in Alberta is climbing and we are no longer on the flat portion of the curve. To increase awareness, to protect each other and to keep the economy open, we must be vigilant, remain socially distant and wear masks. A bylaw, although difficult to enforce, would emphasize the need to remain cautious – a message that does not seem to resonate with some people.
In our community, we do things that benefit not only ourselves but each other. This includes rationing water, noise abatement, controlling pets and recycling. Even though a mask bylaw would be difficult to enforce, it would demonstrate we are looking after each other. Waiting until infection rates increase before enacting such a bylaw is like shutting the proverbial barn door after the horses got out. As shown in many districts in Canada and the rest of the world, the virus is harder to contain once infections spike.
Council missed an opportunity. Delaying three weeks – and possibly longer – is wasting valuable time that could be used to help keep the virus under control. It may cost Airdrie citizens' lives.