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Wood Buffalo divided on mandatory masking issue

PHOTO. RMWB Council chambers inside the Syncrude Athletic Park Clubhouse. A special meeting has been scheduled for March 27, 2020. MYMCMURRAY/Phil Wood

RMWB Council held a special meeting to debate passing a mandatory masking bylaw.

Mayor and Councillors heard several delegates in favour and against the motion.

Everyone around the ‘Horseshoe’ said they will enter the issue with an open mind.

Across the region, there are 55 active cases, one death, 202 recoveries of COVID-19, including 51 in Fort McMurray.

RELATED: Alberta reports 14 new cases, 17 recoveries of COVID-19 in weekend report

Alberta listed the RMWB under its COVID-19 watch list.

The inclusion is due to its active case rate of 66.3 per population of 100,000.

Wood Buffalo’s population, according to census data, is 82974.

Fort McKay M├ętis Nation President Ron Quintal first petitioned the Mayor and Councillors to examine the issue on Sept. 8, 2020.

Quintal said he since received similar amounts of support and hate, but he will continue his support of the motion.

RELATED: Council to hear motion addressing mandatory masks in RMWB

The hamlet implemented a masking plan on July 11 following its first reported case of COVID-19

Quintal said Fort McKay had three confirmed cases of COVID-19 to date.

RELATED: Fort McKay implements COVID-19 response plan

Alberta’s list of outbreak locations includes the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre, CNRL’s Albian, Suncor Base Plant, and Syncrude Mildred Lake site.

RELATED: Northern Lights Regional Health Centre confirms COVID-19 outbreak at medicine unit

Several delegates spoke to the issue and even submitted email responses.

Some of those who opposed the bylaw argued wearing a mask should be a personal choice.

One delegate named Megan spoke about a mental health crisis from the lockdown and public health measures.

“A recent report from Statistics Canada shows a leading cause of death in 10 to 14-year-olds, since the pandemic began, is suicides. In many cases, children have been told they are vectors of disease and they harm their grandparents and loved ones by their mere existence. Where is their mental health protection?”

Megan said people know more information about COVID-19 than in March.

She added the median age of death from COVID-19 in Alberta, which is 83 years as of publication, is similar to the province’s life expectancy of 84 years.

“The original COVID death model for our province stated 32,000 Albertans would likely die from the virus. As we sit here today, we had 253 deaths in our province of four million people.”

Megan added comorbidity rates are also down.

To date, the COVID-19 death rate among Albertans with no underlying health conditions is only 3.3 per cent.

The rate is also 6.1 per cent for those with one condition.

IMAGE. Supplied by the Government of Alberta.


As of Sept. 14, almost 89 per cent of the total number of Albertans who tested positive for COVID-19 recovered from the virus.

Doctor Ahmed Elmezughi, Syncrude’s chief medical officer, said the company supports a masking bylaw for public spaces in Wood Buffalo.

“Thus far our investigations continue to indicate a majority of these cases contracted COVID-19 in the community. We do believe that having strong protocols in a public setting will only help all residents in the community, including our employees.”

Elmezughi added Syncrude is unsure how a small percentage of positive cases contracted the virus.

Suncor similarly stating its support for the bylaw.

To date, 28 workers with ties to Syncrude tested positive for COVID-19, including 13 who recovered and returned to work.

In his medical opinion, he said he feels COVID-19 mitigation efforts helped to flatten the curve.

Elmezughi addressed one study noting the ineffectiveness of masks, which states they cause more infections.

“That was done on health care workers in a hospital setting who are in a high-risk situation. That study is not relevant if you are not [in] health care work because we’re talking about public use.”

He added Albertans have the past benefit of masks limiting asymptomatic transmission.

In all, the Council received 119 total submissions, including seven not included in the agenda that the administration read aloud.

RMWB Council agreed to adjourn the meeting to Sept. 15, 2020, at 1:00 p.m.

Mayor and Councillors unanimously said they would continue to advocate for local EMS dispatch.