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Saturday , 28 November 2020

County of St. Paul decides against mandatory mask policy; town issues mask directive

The County of St. Paul is “strongly encouraging employees to wear masks, but not mandating it at this time,” according to CAO Sheila Kitz.

Kitz said because of the size of the County office, most employees are able to keep their distance within the workplace and that staff have been a part of the conversation.

“But it is an ongoing conversation and we may be revisiting it in the near future,” she said.

County of St. Paul council did discuss whether or not they should introduce a mandatory mask policy within the work place at their regular council meeting Nov. 10, in light of the enhanced measures enacted by the provincial government to stem the rise of COVID-19 in the region.

As of Friday, the County of St. Paul shows 12 active cases and is purple on the map.

The enhanced measures from the province include mandatory early closing of restaurants, bars, lounges, and pubs, 15-person limit on social and family gatherings whether they are indoors or outdoors, and a 50-person limits on all weddings and funerals.

Additional voluntary measures include not socializing inside your home or outside your community, a limit of three cohorts (your household, your school, and on other sport or special cohort), wearing a mask in all indoor work settings unless you are alone or there is an appropriate barrier, employers should reduce the number of employees in the workplace at one time, and faith-based gatherings are limited to 1/3 capacity.

Thoughts around the council table regarding masks were mixed, but generally against a mandate.

Div. 4 Coun. Maxine Fodness wanted to know if the province was encouraging or mandating masks.

The guidelines from Alberta say “Albertans are encouraged to wear non-medical masks in public places or if they have a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.”

Fodness also wondered if a temperature check at the door might be more effective for keeping county staff safe and said she personally finds it difficult to breathe while wearing a mask.

County Reeve Steve Upham noted people who are asymptomatic could still have COVID and not experience a fever.

“Once you put the mask on the first time here, you’ll be wearing it until this thing is long dead and gone,” said Upham.

He said he would much prefer a return to Zoom meetings for a month over a mask mandate.

Div. 5 Coun. Dale Hedrick said he’d like to stay away from a mandatory mask policy as long as possible.

“Sometimes one place starts something and then everyone else just follows along and does it, but that’s not saying you have to follow along with what everyone else is doing,” said Hedrick.

Director of Public Works Daniel Reid said the issue had been discussed with staff “and I would be opposed to it being mandatory in the shop.”

“I think as soon as we mandate masks there we’re going to start working from home again,” said Reid.

Mask directive for Town employees

The Town of St. Paul implemented a mandatory mask directive for town employees on Nov. 9. According to Town of St. Paul CAO Kim Heyman a directive does not require council approval. She issued the directive “after seeing how numbers were on the rise over the weekend,” and said it will stay in effect “until we are no longer under a watch or enhanced measures.”

Heyman said “the only time members of the public would be included in this directive would be if they want to come in to an employee’s office. We are offering Council Chambers as an alternative meeting space, so that shouldn’t be an issue.”

Town of St. Paul council previously discussed a mask policy at the July 27 council meeting but decided against a mandate for the community, citing the tight budget and cost of enforcement.

While masks are not mandatory for the general public at this time, Town of St. Paul Mayor Maureen Miller issued an impassioned plea to the community through the Town’s Facebook page on Nov. 13 urging everyone to wear masks and maintain their social distance to prevent further restrictions.

“I feel I have to ask you all to do your part. The Premier also said he’s sees this as our last chance to get our numbers under control before harsher measures are initiated,” said Miller.
She acknowledged the skepticism present in the community about the seriousness of the virus, and the frustration people have with restrictions.
“Maybe you haven’t caught the virus yet, or maybe you know someone who has contracted the virus and they weren’t that sick with it. But what ever your reasons for your skepticism, we are very close to another shutdown. It’s time for us all to come together as a community and start practicing the social distancing and the safety measures the Chief Medical Officer of Health for the Province has been preaching for months now,” said Miller.
“If you can’t do it for your own health or for the health of those you love, do it for our community. If we don’t get our numbers down and we are forced to shut down again, our community may not recover. Our businesses that have just come out of a lockdown, may not survive another one.”
“Without masks and social distancing, we could unwittingly spread the virus. We may be healthy ourselves, but we have vulnerable within our community we need to look out for. The infection rate, hospitalization rate and the death rate, are on the rise in the Province. The infection rate and hospitalization rate are on the rise in our community. We have to do our part to get our numbers back down and keep our community viable and safe, as we weather this pandemic.”

About Meredith Kerr

Meredith Kerr moved to St. Paul for a career in journalism and morning radio in 2014 expecting to stay for six months to a year. Since then, she has put down roots in the form of a husband, a mortgage, two babies, and a poorly behaved dog. She continues to work as a reporter until such time as she finishes her book and becomes fabulously wealthy from the royalties. Meredith also serves as a member at large on the St. Paul Library Board and volunteers as a Beaver leader for the 1st St. Paul Scout Group.