by Colin Smith
Wearing masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 virus will not be required in Morinville, at least for now.
At its regular meeting Tuesday Morinville Town Council decided against making mask-wearing mandatory in public spaces.
However, it asked the Administration to draft a mask-wearing bylaw that would be enacted if a worsening COVID-19 situation in the community warrants it.
Council made the decision following a COVID-19 report by Chief Administrative Officer Stephane Labonne and an extensive discussion.
In his verbal report, Labonne stated that most municipalities in the Edmonton Metropolitan Area were considering or had introduced a mandatory mask bylaw, the exceptions being Devon, Leduc County and Parkland County, along with Morinville.
Sturgeon County passed a mask bylaw at an August 21 special meeting. Labonne noted that this bylaw will affect the Morinville Leisure Centre, which is located in the County.
With the number of active cases of COVID-19 in Morinville at five, the community is considered to be in the Open category, with no additional measures required. St. Albert is the same, but the number of cases in both Sturgeon County and Edmonton are relatively high, putting them in the Watch category.
Labonne said in Morinville there appears to be a good level of compliance with the Province’s guidelines for preventing the spread of the virus, including physical distancing, avoiding large gatherings and wearing masks where physical distancing is not possible.
“We don’t see a need at this at this point in time today for a mask bylaw,” he said. “However, we also recognize that the environment around us is changing and may change quickly.
“If things change and we start to fall into the Watch category or things start to change in Sturgeon County with the number of cases they are managing, it is probably appropriate.”
Labonne suggested that Council could have the Administration draft a mask bylaw for possible adoption in that event.
“Masks are an arrow in the quiver, or tool to keep cases down,” said Mayor Barry Turner during Council’s discussion of the issue. “What is desired is an overall reduction in cases. Masks are an important part of that.
“However, at five cases and not being on the Watch list, I think a bylaw is not necessary at this time. But we should have one ready.”
Following the discussion, Council passed a motion directing the Administration to bring forward a draft mandatory face-covering bylaw, including an effective trigger, to be considered at its September 15 Committee of the Whole meeting.
The vote in favour of the motion was 6-1 with Councillor Rebecca Balanko being opposed.
Council unanimously passed three other resolutions related to mask-wearing during the pandemic.
The second motion directed the Administration to develop a communications plan that would provide residents with information about ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including how to wear masks properly.
“We need to deliver clear messaging on what we recommend, following Alberta Health Services guidelines at this point,” said Councillor Sarah Hall. “I think education is important to do, and clarity to our residents on where we stand and what our expectations are is very important at this time.”
Councillor Stephen Dafoe pointed to the importance of providing the same direction as the AHS.
“We’re not medical experts,” he said. “I think putting this info out, that’s got to be us echoing the Province’s experts.”
The third motion directed the mayor to write a letter to the Government of Alberta advocating for provincial guidance with respect to face coverings.
A further motion directed Administration to draft an emergent resolution for consideration at the 2020 Alberta Urban Municipalities Association Convention, taking place September 23 to 25 in Calgary, calling on the provincial government to establish a guideline for municipal mandatory face-covering bylaws.
“By having this set of guidelines you’re not going to have municipal councils making knee-jerk reactions,” said Dafoe. “Lobbying the government through AUMA will give everybody in the province the ability to make decisions based on facts, on science.”
Councillor Rebecca Balanko said such a framework is what has been needed all along.
Publisher’s Note: As of Thursday afternoon, Morinville had two active COVID-19 cases, a reduction of four from the day before. Sturgeon County had 22.