LETHBRIDGE -- Wearing a mask is now the law of the land in Lethbridge, at least temporarily.

Lethbridge city council approved by a 6-3 vote Monday evening a mandatory face-covering bylaw that includes all indoor public spaces, aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19 and keeping the local economy moving ahead.

That includes places like malls, grocery stores, retail businesses, churches, as well as taxi and ridesharing businesses.

The bylaw will be in effect until the end of December, at which point council will have to decide whether it needs to be extended.

“One of the things a few weeks ago, Coun. Crowson talked about the nudge. When you want someone to do something, you don’t use a sledgehammer — you do little nudges,” said Coun. Rob Miyashiro.

“Wearing the mask is one thing; it’s not a draconian thing or a horrible thing. It’s a very little thing people can do, and then make it normal.”

The new bylaw follows similar temporary measures put into place in Calgary and Edmonton earlier this month.

Anyone not adhering to the bylaw could face a $100 fine, but the city says it is is more concerned with education and encouraging residents to wear a mask in indoor spaces to protect themselves and those around them.

Miyashiro, along with Couns. Mark Campbell, Belinda Crowson, Jeff Coffman, Jeff Carlson, and Mayor Chris Spearman voted in favour of the bylaw, while Couns. Blaine Hyggen, Joe Mauro and Ryan Parker voted against it.

The fact Lethbridge currently has no active COVID-19 cases was one reason cited for not supporting the bylaw.

“There’s been buy-in, there’s become some normality to what’s occurred. I just thought that the voice of many citizens in the community in regard to people against it had to be heard,” said Parker.

“I’m glad I could bring that voice forward with reasons why. Am I disappointed the vote went the way it did? Yes, but I also respect democracy and a majority vote.”

Spearman commended his council colleagues for taking leadership on the issue by passing the mandatory bylaw and said it will benefit residents, businesses and the community at large during this uncertain time.

“When people have COVID-19, those that have contracted it, even when they’ve recovered they often have lingering after-effects," he said.

"We want to make sure that nobody’s health is compromised and that we make sure we support others. There are young people in our community with immune deficiencies and people undergoing cancer treatment with immune deficiencies, let’s make sure we’re looking after everyone."

The bylaw includes some exemptions to the mandatory use of face coverings, which include:

  • Anyone under the age of two;
  • Anyone unable to place, use, or remove a face covering without assistance;
  • Anyone unable to wear a face-covering because of an underlying medical condition or disability or other protected ground under the Alberta Human Rights Act;
  • Anyone consuming food or drink in designated areas or as part of a religious or spiritual ceremony;
  • Anyone engaged in aquatic activities or physical exercise;
  • Anyone providing care or assistance to a person with a disability where a face covering would hinder that caregiving or assistance;
  • Anyone engaging in services that require the temporary removal of a face covering;
  • Anyone who is sleeping or in bed at a homeless shelter;
  • A child who is older than two years of age but younger than five years of age chronologically or developmentally and who refuses to wear a face covering and cannot be persuaded to do so by their caregiver, and;
  • Anyone leading in worship provided physical distancing of at least two metres is possible.

As per provincial government recommendations, wearing a mask or face covering outdoors when physical distancing cannot be maintained is also encouraged.