By COLLIN GALLANT on September 8, 2021.
Medicine Hat city council did not discuss the worsening COVID-19 situation at Tuesday’s open council meeting, but administrators are studying the potential possibility, as well as legality, of requiring its employees to be vaccinated.
Mayor Ted Clugston told reporters following the meeting that council did receive an update from municipal emergency manager Merrick Brown, but that was left off the public agenda.
Council was set to discuss re-implementing a local mask bylaw to help bring down racing case numbers in the city, which now sit at 586 active. Four deaths over the long weekend bring the growing total to 35, 13 of which have occurred during this fourth wave alone.
Shortly after Clugston announced the potential of new mask discussions last Thursday, the province instituted a province-wide indoor mask requirement that took effect Saturday.
“We had an update (from Brown in closed council meeting), as we usually do, on case counts and vaccination rates, but the (mask bylaw) didn’t come up – the point was moot,” Clugston said.
“We’re in the midst of discussing vaccines and whether they will be mandated, and rapid testing. Staff is working on that right now, but no decision has been made.”
Clugston defended the city’s action on COVID, citing a public awareness campaign to promote vaccine safety. The city will partner with Alberta Health Services to bring a mobile vaccination clinic bus to Medicine Hat College and the Family Leisure Centre later this week, he revealed.
Regular bi-weekly updates to council from Brown ended June 24, at which time he said City Hall has maintained its operational policies to help stop the spread of infection in the city’s workforce, especially those workers who provide first response and essential utility services.
Calgary and Edmonton have debated mask bylaws and alternate action as most municipal leaders have been critical of the province’s speed to act and leaving it to cities in August to respond to residents’ demand for action.
Earlier Tuesday, the City of Lethbridge defeated a motion by Mayor Chris Spearman to ask staff to explore how to begin “supplementing” provincial measures in municipal facilities.
That included the potential of writing a standard bylaw in case the provincial orders changed by Dec. 31. Instead Lethbridge will continue its work-from-home policy and will employ rapid testing for the workforce this fall.
Clugston, who did not vote in support of the city’s since-expired 2020 mask bylaw, also said a local bylaw would be problematic.
“We’re 41 days out from an election, and the problem is when do you have the sunset clause,” he said. “Especially if the province stops testing, then you don’t know the numbers? Do you leave that (date) for the next council (to decide)?”
A half dozen council candidates who attended the meeting in that gallery didn’t offer positions on whether a mask mandate was needed, but all said the item should have been discussed.
“It should have been on the agenda,” said council candidate Shila Sharps.
Brian Dueck called a new mask bylaw “redundant” and says government action is catching people off-guard.