The majority of Calgarians are following the city’s temporary mandatory mask bylaw, according to a new report to be presented to council on Monday.
According to a city survey of 500 Calgarians conducted between Aug. 25 and 28, 89 per cent of the city’s population said they wear a mask in public and confined indoor spaces like grocery stores and shopping malls.
The report said that the latest results are 34 per cent higher than prior to when the mask bylaw came into effect on Aug. 1.
An even greater number of residents are wearing masks on Calgary Transit, which reported a 95 per cent face covering compliance rate; up from 45 per cent in mid-July.
The survey results also show overwhelming support for mandated masking among 88 per cent of respondents.
According to the report, the mandatory mask bylaw is “one of our most important tools to help keep Calgary open.”
The temporary bylaw requires mask-use in all public indoor spaces, including malls, grocery stores, city-owned buildings, retail businesses and places of worship.
Exemptions include children under the age of two, people with underlying medical conditions and people who are unable to put on or remove a mask without help.
Masks aren’t required while seated at a table at at restaurants or bars, however a face covering is mandatory when customers aren’t seated.
“The objectives of the bylaw mandating face coverings in public indoor spaces are to increase usage of face coverings to help lower transmissions of the virus and to support keeping Calgary’s economy open,” an early indications section of the report read. “Early indications are that the Temporary COVID-19 Face Coverings Bylaw is contributing to those intended objectives.”
Cases have continued to rise in the province since the bylaw was discussed in city council in July, when active cases in the province jumped to 1,109 at the time.
Calgary led the province in active cases at the time, with 553 active cases.
“When we made that move in July, the trajectory was very high, we were doubling cases every week,” Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Monday. “That doubling number and transmission number have gone down significantly.”
On Friday, Alberta recorded 111 new cases of COVID-19, the 24th time a triple digit case increase was reported since the mask bylaw came into effect, and active cases in the province now sit at 1,444; 560 of those cases are in Calgary.
According to the report, the “upward trend” of cases throughout August and September “highlights the reality that the pandemic is highly dynamic and ongoing vigilance is required.”
Nenshi said he was pleased to see the number of Calgarians taking up mask use since the bylaw was enacted, but even with a flattened curve, the city needs to keep enforcing the bylaw to ensure cases don’t spike.
“We need to ensure that, to keep ourselves from going into another lockdown, we’re doing common sense things to keep that curve flattened and the health-care system from being overwhelmed,” Nenshi said.
Dr. Amy Tan, an associate professor at the University of Calgary Cumming School of Medicine and volunteer with mask advocacy group Masks4Canada, said the recent spike in cases can be attributed to places where masks aren’t enforced under the bylaw.
“We were seeing that a lot of outbreaks were in workplaces, restaurants and private gatherings, more so than any other place,” Tan said. “That would speak to where mask mandates aren’t enacted.”
Tan and Masks4Canada advocated for mask use among 80 per cent of the population, and penned letters to federal and provincial health officials to lobby for mandatory masks prior to the bylaw coming into effect.
Tan also pointed to new emerging evidence that cloth masks could also limit the amount of droplets a person could potentially breathe in, which could lead to a less severe infection.
However, Tan said its important to keep ongoing health measures in effect in an effort to drive down the spread of the virus, as new studies show long-term side effects from COVID-19.
“At the same time that we’re seeing masks can be protective in terms of severity of disease, we’re actually seeing some studies showing that even mild cases that never (went) to the hospital, three months later had what looks to be irreversible heart damage,” Tan said. “This is doubly concerning as to why we need to be continuing to do everything we can to limit the spread of the virus, especially as schools reopen.”
Although the bylaw is a temporary measure amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the report said the decision to repeal the rule would made under one or more of three scenarios.
Those scenarios, outlined in the report, include transmission rates, infections, hospitalizations and patients in intensive care dropping to sufficiently low levels “that medical experts agree that face coverings are no longer a recommended tool.”
The bylaw could also be repealed if a safe and effective treatment like a vaccine is identified, or if provincial and federal medical experts retract their messaging of the use of face-coverings to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Administration is not presenting any recommendations to amend the mandatory mask bylaw when the survey results are presented to council on Monday.
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