Town of St. Paul town council voted for staff to draft a policy mandating members of the public to wear a mask at the town arenas.
Council’s discussion of the motion centred around enforcing this type of policy and the fact that the request for the policy is coming from arena staff whose jobs put them in contact with up to eight cohorts in a given day.
“When we started this whole COVID thing and put the arenas back in, people were definitely following the laws of the land or the guidance. It’s gotten to a point where people are now abusing and pushing,” said Harvey Smyl, the town’s Director of Parks & Recreation.
He said arena staff are doing their best to maintain distance and set the example for the public, but patrons are not following suit and staff are concerned, not only themselves, but their families and those at high-risk.
“I just don’t understand how or why we could not do this,” said Smyl.
Coun. Gary Ward was one of several councillors to raise the question of how a mask policy would be enforced “otherwise there’s no sense doing it.” He recommended the town make a recommendation for masks to be worn in all recreational facilities, which was supported by Coun. Tyson deMoissac.
Coun. Nathan Taylor argued the town should find a middle ground similar to Bonnyville, requiring masks to enter the buildings which can be taken off once patrons are seated.
He spoke about how in the past when the town has introduced a rule which requires enforcement there has been a large education component prior to enforcement taking place.
“Do we enforce 100 per cent of all of our bylaws? No. And are we catching even 80 per cent of the speeders in town? No. Are we catching 50 per cent of the people don’t clear their snow? No. Our enforcement of our laws is probably less than 10 per cent of all of the laws on the book. And so the idea that we need to pass this by law, and we need to achieve 50, 60, 70 per cent enforcement of this policy is crazy,” said Taylor.
Town of St. Paul CAO Kim Heyman pressed council to clarify whether they were talking about a policy or a bylaw, noting the two words mean very different things as far as next steps are concerned.
She said a policy works well with staff but is difficult to enforce with the public, while a bylaw is more enforceable but requires advertising and multiple readings and would likely not be in place until January because of that process.
“After tomorrow, if it becomes a provincial bylaw or provincial law, then I think all bets are off, we’ll have to see what they want to do as far as whether they’re going to give the municipalities the authority to do it,” said Heyman, referencing Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s statement on Monday and the expectation of increased restrictions Tuesday.
Mayor Maureen Miller noted that even if a policy is not strictly enforceable by the community peace officers, it is “enforceable to say I have a policy, either abide by the policy or leave. Your policy is going to have to state what you’re going to do, or what’s the consequence if you’re not wearing a mask and how you’re going to request that to be done.”
Coun. Ron Boisvert asked if the recreation department plans to provide masks for the public to wear if a policy is brought forward. Smyl said he thought there would be a week to ten days transition period where the arenas could provide masks, and then keep some on hand for staff to sell for a dollar or two after that.
Coun. Tyson deMoissac made a motion to table the discussion until after the province makes a decision on new recommendations. That motion was defeated. A motion to authorize a mask policy mandating the public to wear a mask in the town arenas carried 6-1, with deMoissac opposed.
Chamber Mask Survey Results
A survey by the St. Paul & District Chamber of Commerce found a majority of businesses in St. Paul already have mask policies in place and would support the Town of St. Paul in a mandatory mask policy.
According to the results, as of Nov. 20, 66.6 per cent of businesses have a mask policy. Eighty per cent of those policies apply only to staff.
Just under 57 per cent of respondents support a mandatory mask policy, while a third of those polled support a mask recommendation and just 14 per cent want no policy or recommendation regarding masks.
According to the feedback from the comments submitted on the survey, the business community is looking for leadership from the town and also concerned about enforcement.
“I would like to see a clear policy, it’s very random right now and I think most people would look forward to having some direction.”
“We do see a lot of customers voluntarily wearing masks now, but I believe it would be very difficult and to enforce a mandatory mask policy. I believe this would also be very costly, enforcing it and having masks available for those who don’t have any.”
“We will always have people that won’t comply, however, if we made it a policy more people would wear them even if there were no consequences.”
County of St. Paul reduces in-person staffing
At a special council meeting Nov. 18, the County of St. Paul passed a motion to close the Public Works building to the public.
According to County of St. Paul CAO Sheila Kitz the administration building remains open but in-person staffing has been reduced with some staff working from home in order to meet recommendations by public health.
“We will be recommending that residents call before coming in to see staff as they may not be working in the office and may need to call them instead,” said Kitz in an e-mailed statement.
Kitz said she had also followed the Town CAO Kim Heyman’s lead by issuing a directive to staff “to wear masks when they cannot socially distance and in common areas.”
County council also voted to return to virtual council meetings until the COVID-19 numbers in the region improve.