City council in Calgary has voted to repeal its masking bylaw, days before the start of the Stampede.
Last week, the provincial government lifted most of its COVID-19 public health restrictions but Calgary left its masking bylaw in place until Monday.
Calgarians will no longer be required to wear face coverings indoors except in city-owned spaces and vehicles, including public transit.
The city’s administration, which had previously recommended keeping the mandatory mask rule in place until July 31, recently asked council to rescind the bylaw.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who was one of 10 members of council who voted to repeal the bylaw, said it is time people learn to live safely without restrictions.
“(The administration’s recommendation) is data-based and science-based, and that is why I am comfortable in supporting it,” Nenshi told councillors Monday.
“Am I still nervous? Yes. Am I worried about the Delta variant? Yes. However, I still believe that we do have to move from pandemic to endemic.”
Four councillors voted to keep the mask bylaw until the end of the month.
The chief medical officer of health, as well as city health officials, are still recommending the use of masks but fines can no longer be issued, and it’s not part of provincial or municipal legislation, Nenshi said.
“I am incredibly comfortable that the health-care system has capacity,” he said. “Infection rates are almost as low as they were when we passed the masking bylaw last summer.”
Nenshi said hospitalization rates are still higher than what they were last summer, “but they are trending down very positively.”
The province on Monday reported 139 new cases of COVID-19 since Friday and two additional deaths. There were 136 people in hospital, with 32 of those patients in intensive care.
There were also 831 active COVID-19 cases throughout the province, and of those, 541 were the more contagious variants of concern, the Alberta Health website indicated.
Nenshi said Monday that Calgary is expected to reach 50 per cent of people in the city who are fully immunized.
City council’s vote to rescind the masking bylaw comes despite a warning last month from the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association.
The group sent a letter to Nenshi and Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson expressing concern about the province’s reopening plan and asked them to keep masking bylaws in place until at least 70 per cent of their cities’ eligible populations have been fully immunized.
It said the “reckless relaxing of precautions” and allowing super-spreader events such as the Calgary Stampede “is likely to jeopardize the smooth reopening of schools and workplaces in the fall.”
The Stampede starts on Friday and runs until July 18.
Also last month, Zero COVID Canada asked the mayors of Alberta’s two largest cities to do the same, saying that a single dose of vaccine — including Pfizer — is only about 30 per cent effective against the Delta variant first reported in India.
That variant has been behind a recent surge in COVID-19 cases in countries such as the United Kingdom and Israel, nations that were touted for controlling infection rates in the spring. Those areas have reintroduced some public health restrictions to stop further spread of the more potent variant.
Edmonton’s city council has also voted to repeal their masking bylaw, which came into effect on Canada Day.
— By Daniela Germano, The Canadian Press