by Colin Smith
Face coverings will be mandatory in public places in Morinville when the number of active cases of COVID-19 in the community rises to 10 (and more than 50 cases per 100,000) if a proposed bylaw discussed by Town Council at its September 15 Committee of the Whole meeting becomes law.
The Mandatory Face Coverings Bylaw would require people to wear a face-covering at all time while in an indoor, enclosed or substantially enclosed public place or in public vehicles (taxis). Proposed penalties range from $100 up to $10,000.
The proposed bylaw sets out a number of exemptions, including for people who are unable to wear face coverings as a result of physical or mental health concerns, are unable to use face coverings without assistance, or are eating or drinking in designating seating areas or as part of a religious or spiritual ceremony.
At its August 25 regular meeting Council directed the Administration to bring forward a draft mandatory face-covering bylaw, including an effective trigger, for discussion.
Presenting the bylaw to Council, Iain Bushell, General Manager of Community and Infrastructure Services, pointed out that Alberta Health publishes a daily update of the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in each region, with the result that they are put in Open, Watch and Enhanced Measures categories.
Bushell stated that many municipalities have included a trigger for mandatory face coverings based upon case numbers putting them into “Watch” status, which is based on at least 10 active cases and more than 50 active cases per 100,000.
He said Morinville’s proposed bylaw was drafted following a review of the mandatory face-covering bylaws enacted by other communities because of a lack of provincial government direction and incorporated “best practices.”
However, the draft bylaw is unlikely to be passed in its present form, as Councillors at the Committee of the Whole meeting questioned several aspects of it.
One issue raised was that once the bylaw is triggered by cases rising to 10, the requirement for mandatory face coverings would remain even if the number subsequently goes down, until it is repealed.
“I cannot see me supporting a bylaw that doesn’t have a trigger-off,” said Councillor Stephen Dafoe.
Other Councillors voiced their agreement, and it was proposed that mandatory mask provisions be lifted once the number of active cases had dropped below 10 and remained there for 28 or 30 days.
Acknowledging Councillors’ concerns, Chief Administrative Officer Stephane Labonne indicated the Administration would work on revising the bylaw to include an off-trigger.
Another concern expressed, initially by Councillor Scott Richardson, was the size of the maximum penalty for violating the bylaw, set at $10,000.
Bushell stated that this figure would potentially be imposed only in “egregious” cases involving a number of people, such as large house parties where COVID prevention measures were deliberately being flouted.
Responding to a question from Councillor Rebecca Balanko, he said enforcement of the bylaw will be difficult, with usually only bylaw officer on during the day.
“This is a bylaw that will require the discretion of our staff,” added Labonne. “We have to look at it as education, compliance, enforcement.”
The draft bylaw was referred to Council’s September 22 regular meeting for First Reading.
As of Wednesday evening, Morinville had one active Covid-19 case. Sturgeon County, whose mask bylaw was removed on Monday after 14 days out of watch status is now up to 10 active cases and 35.8 per 100,000 of population.