Final Decision on Mandatory Mask Measure in RMWB Expected in October

A possible mandatory mask bylaw won’t be enforced for at least another month.

Wood Buffalo council met on Tuesday where they discussed implementing the potential measure after a recent rise in COVID-19 cases and outbreaks across the region. This includes several cases linked to Syncrude and Suncor’s Base Plant.

They needed to unanimously approve making the final decision on Tuesday, however, Councillor Sheila Lalonde voted against citing concerns over whether they should green light a rule the province hasn’t done themselves.

This moves the decision to October 13.

What the Bylaw Looks Like

If approved, the RMWB will look to first educate people caught without a mask, followed by $100 fines for the next offense and $200 fines afterward.

Those under the age of five, need help to put a mask on or have a physical or mental illness that requires them to avoid using a mask would be exempt from the bylaw. People helping somebody with a disability and would have their support hindered by wearing a mask won’t have to wear one as well.

There are also some exceptions for the entire public. This includes when eating, drinking, exercising, or leading/ attending a religious activity.

Individuals could also be fined for ‘harassing’ or ‘intimidating’ these individuals.

Public Divided

Over 110 residents gave their views directly to council by speaking at the meeting or sending an email.

Many cited concerns over the effectiveness of masks, while others believed the number of new cases is small compared to the overall population of the region.

Clay Kuncio was one of the residents who spoke against the bylaw. He believes the decision to wear a mask should be up to each individual.

“Everyone needs to do their own risk management, we’re all responsible adults, we know our own health conditions.”

Unlike some, Kuncio did highlight the importance of masks in some circumstances.

“Mask wearing should be 100 per cent compliant when going into any care homes, should be compliance when going into the hospital… anywhere there are sickly people.”

One of the residents to speak in favour of the bylaw was high school senior Alexis House.

Her father has Type 1 Diabetes which forced her to make the tough decision to continue her education online.

“COVID-19 is not deadly in every case but neither is HIV/AIDS and if I could do something that could prevent other people from getting HIV/AIDS I would go out of my way to do that,” she said.

“Masks aren’t fun, they’re uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time… I can say with confidence that I would rather be a little bit uncomfortable, have my face a little greasy, my breath smell bad than be the reason someone’s mother, grandfather, daughter, or friend contracts COVID-19 and dies a preventable death.”

One doctor also took the time to speak to council.

Dr. Ahmed Elmezughi, Syncrude’s Chief Medical Officer, took the time to explain just how important mask-wearing is.

“We’re all walking around healthy today but I could be an asymptomatic carrier who is gonna get sick next week… so if I’m wearing a mask, I’m protecting people around me.”

When council meets in October to potentially make a final decision, the public won’t be able to participate as they had already been given the chance to do so.

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