Two conditions added to trigger council review of Edmonton’s indoor, public places mask mandate

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Edmonton’s indoor mask mandate will need to be reviewed by city council when two new triggers are met.

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Council voted 9-4 Monday to reintroduce targets into the mask bylaw, which was extended indefinitely without any thresholds last month. Under new bylaw amendments, the mask mandate must be reviewed by council within 30 days of the city’s active case rate falling below 100 per 100,000 for 28 straight days and following repeal of the province’s current public health order mandating masks.

The thresholds don’t require that the bylaw be repealed but trigger a council discussion to discuss next steps.

Although the city’s active case rate has been below 100 for more than 40 days, the 28-day count will only begin Tuesday after approval of the amendments. The bylaw would only be required to be reviewed once both threshold requirements are met, but council is able to bring forward the rule for discussion at any point and can make decisions about repeal or extension.

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City staff and medical professionals will also be giving monthly COVID-19 presentations to council with recent data, after updates lessened earlier this year.

Initially council asked for other conditions to be included, such as two weeks after 80 per cent of children aged 5-11 in the Edmonton Zone have been fully vaccinated as well as ICU utilization below 50 per cent. But Alberta Health Services Edmonton Zone medical officer of health Dr. Chris Sikora said these may not be the best indicators and the active case rate is the most up-to-date data to base decisions on.

It’s difficult to predict what vaccine uptake will be for children aged 5-11 and ICU utilization is a lagging indicator of COVID-19 presence in the community and wouldn’t accurately reflect the public health situation in Edmonton, Sikora said.

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“I think this is a very pragmatic approach, one that allows for flexibility, but also allows for that continued use of publicly available information to help inform city policy,” he told council. “More immunization would be better, I think is a common phrase, and we’ve seen what our health-care infrastructure is capable of doing to be able to respond. But it’s really difficult to work in preemptive metrics into a particular bylaw.”

Some councillors voted against the amendment, raising concerns about the conditions providing false hope that the bylaw will be repealed when there will be many more factors considered once the discussion is again in front of council, including vaccination rates, ICU capacity and the impact of variants. But voting in favour, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said he feels it’s important to give residents an understanding of what council is basing the mask decision on.

“We are all tired of it, we are all sick of this pandemic and we want it to go away but it will only go away if we continue to do our part. In order for us to continue to do our part, we need to have some guidelines and this bylaw does provide us certain guidelines and also expects everyone else to do their part,” he said.

Under the current bylaw, masks are required in all publicly accessible indoor places as well as public vehicles, including the city’s transit system.

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