Top doctor urges continued precaution as COVID-19 cases rise; Calgary, Banff consider mandatory masks

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Amid a rise in new cases of COVID-19 infection in recent weeks, the province’s top doctor says now is not the time for Albertans to succumb to “fatigue” by abandoning public health protocols.

The province reported 86 new cases Tuesday, bringing the active case count across Alberta to 701. Of those, 295 are in Alberta Health Services’ Calgary zone.

There were 55 COVID-19 patients in hospitals across Alberta as of Tuesday, including 13 being treated in intensive care.

Two more deaths were reported, both in Edmonton, bringing the province’s COVID-19 fatality toll to 163.

“While we saw cases decline from the peak seen in April, our daily cases have begun to rise over the past few days,” chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said during a briefing on Tuesday.

“This pandemic has been a long haul and I worry that Albertans may be starting to tune the messages out. It can seem like old news and many are tired of hearing this information.”

Hinshaw said 148 of those deaths have been of people over the age of 70. Almost 90 per cent of them had two or more underlying health conditions.

But she said she is also concerned about younger Albertans who have been infected by the virus as of late.

Over the past two weeks, 780 new cases have been identified in Alberta, with 57 per cent of those being under the age of 40.

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Hinshaw reiterated that “the best way to defeat the virus has not changed,” reminding Albertans to maintain at least two metres from others in public, wear masks and continue washing or sanitizing their hands.

The provincial government announced earlier this week it would begin distributing a second batch of 20 million non-medical masks to the public, after giving away an equal amount last month.

But Premier Jason Kenney said his government would not make masks mandatory in public indoor spaces.

In Calgary, city council is set to discuss policies surrounding mandated mask use next Monday.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the city has a few options, which include making face coverings mandatory just on public transit, at all city-owned facilities such as libraries and recreation centres, or even in all retail spaces across Calgary.

Calgary could also go the way of cities such as Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal by making it mandatory to wear masks in all indoor public spaces.

That option, unlike mandating face coverings at city-operated facilities only, would require a bylaw to be passed. But Nenshi said it could take until September to get such a bylaw in place.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi. Brendan Miller/Postmedia

“The level of mask-wearing is much too low and I think that the science is very clear that if we can increase the percentage of people wearing masks, the likelihood of us having to go backwards on economic reopening . . . becomes much less likely,” Nenshi said.

He called it a “relatively small sacrifice to protect others.”

“It really is a community service to wear a mask,” the mayor said.

The Town of Banff is also considering a mandate for all visitors to wear masks.

The town council asked administration on Monday to draft a bylaw that would make it mandatory to wear face coverings in the downtown and adjacent streets, as well as in publicly accessible indoor spaces.

Spokesman Jason Darrah said town staff would examine bylaws in other municipalities and bring the draft bylaw to council in early August.

“We have received many, many emails and letters from our own residents asking council to bring in mandatory legislation,” Darrah said.

“We aren’t seeing enough people wearing masks. We can see roughly between five and 10 per cent of people wearing masks on the street.”

Banff’s main street is now decorated with flowers and closed to vehicles for the summer as part of COVID-19 changes for the town on Thursday, June 18, 2020. Gavin Young/Postmedia

Council also unanimously approved a direction for the town to hire safety ambassadors who would hand out masks seven days a week in the downtown, much of which has been closed to vehicles to give pedestrians more room to maintain physical distance.

“Masks are proven by health experts to help stop the spread of the virus,” Darrah said.

“Because we don’t feel enough people are wearing masks, we’re doing this initiative to help people do so.”

— With files from Madeline Smith

shudes@postmedia.com
Twitter: @SammyHudes

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