BANFF – Wearing masks outdoors on the 100 and 200 block of Banff Avenue will continue to be mandatory for the foreseeable future to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
While indoor mask wearing remains mandatory in all publicly accessible buildings, outdoor masks would be no longer technically compulsory when the downtown pedestrian closure comes to and end next week.
However, most councillors want the outdoor mask bylaw to continue to apply to the 100 and 200 blocks, while others are interested in potentially seeing it expand to other busy commercial areas in the tourist town too.
Mayor Karen Sorensen said that can all be up for discussion and debate when the bylaw comes back to council at its Sept. 21 meeting.
“I am not negating other councillor’s ideas, but from my perspective, the 100 and 200 blocks of Banff Avenue is a good starting point,” she said at a council meeting Tuesday (Sept. 8).
The Town of Banff’s COVID-safety ambassadors will continue handing out masks to visitors on Banff Avenue until Monday (Sept. 14) when the downtown pedestrian closure comes to an end.
However, with the help of ambassadors working on neighbouring Bear Street, the municipality will continue to distribute masks to tourists on weekends until the end of October.
Silvio Adamo, the Town of Banff’s director of emergency management, said approximately 53,000 masks have been handed out in the downtown core since July 17.
“I would like to thank and commend our safety ambassadors for their work educating and providing masks to the public,” he said.
“I can say without hesitation that the mandatory mask bylaw would not have been as successful as it has been without the safety ambassadors on the streets every day.”
The Town of Banff also beefed up its municipal enforcement presence downtown over summer to make sure people were wearing masks.
“To date, we have not had to issue a single violation ticket,” Adamo said.
Councillor Peter Poole voiced strong support for mandatory outdoor mask wearing on Banff Avenue, particularly because the number of COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Alberta – at 1,692 active cases province-wide as of Sept. 8.
“We see cases rising and we have more mixing because of school and we have the onset of cold weather,” he said. “We should continue the masking until we are comfortable that we have things under control.”
Coun. Poole also suggested making outdoor mask wearing mandatory in other busy areas of town, such as the entire commercial downtown district, hotel strip, the Banff Springs Hotel area and the railway lands district.
“I don’t think it’s relevant for somebody walking along Cave Avenue at night on the path with nobody else around – I think that’s sort of silly,” he said.
“I would like to see masking apply, so that a visitor coming from outside thinks, ‘oh, this is a community where you wear a mask when you are in the vicinity of other people.’ ”
Coun. Corrie DiManno said she wants outdoor mask wearing to continue on Banff Avenue.
“We don’t know what visitation is going to look like, but certainly we know there’s going to be less space generally for pedestrians on Banff Avenue,” she said.
“I think it’s working well, I think we’re seeing it normalized and I wouldn’t want to backslide on any of that progress.”
Councillor Grant Canning agreed.
“I would like to see it extended on Banff Avenue as well. I would be open to expanding the footprint of it as well,” he said.
“Under that same token, we don’t know what the visitation is going to look like, so I like the fact that we are revisiting this every meeting to get updated.”
Mayor Sorensen said she supports mandatory outdoor mask wearing continuing on Banff Avenue only, but there needs to be an end date to the bylaw.
“The purpose of the masks outdoors – and I completely continue to support masks in all indoor buildings – is about not being able to socially distance,” she said.
“I personally feel a Tuesday in November on Banff Avenue is not going to be a concern; weekends may be different.”
There were 619 new cases confirmed over the Labour Day holiday long weekend – 154 on Friday, 171 on Saturday, 137 on Sunday and 157 on Monday. With five new deaths over the four days, the province’s coronavirus death toll rose to 247.