NORTH BATTLEFORD - You can add North Battleford to the growing number of Saskatchewan cities that are imposing mask mandates in their facilities.
At their meeting Monday at Chapel Gallery, council voted in favour of mandating masks for patrons in city owned-and-operated facilities effective Sept. 20.
There are, however, a number of exemptions.
There are exemptions to the mask mandate for those under three years of age, those medically exempt and those individuals who cannot place or remove a mask without assistance. It will also not cover those actively involved in aquatic activities, physical exercise or playing sports. Masks are also not required for private functions in city facilities where staff are not providing services (weddings or rentals for example), but it will be required for viewing sporting events. Masks can be removed while seated to consume food or drink.
The resolution was amended to clarify that it would cover only city-owned and operated facilities that are fully within the authority of the city. The mask mandate would cover facilities such as City Hall, galleries including Chapel Gallery and Allen Sapp Gallery and some leisure services facilities such as Access Communications Centre, the aquatic centre and the field house.
But it does not include city-owned facilities run by third-parties such as the Dekker Centre for the Performing Arts, the Northland Power Curling Centre or the North Battleford Golf and Country Club. For those, the mask mandate would be a recommendation only.
Director of Corporate Services Jennifer Niesink told council they would have to look at their agreements with those facilities before they implement something there, but recommended, as a first step, that it apply to city-run and owned facilities.
Another amendment moved by Councillor Kent Lindgren called for the policy to be reviewed no later than Jan. 20, 2022. Lindgren cited the importance of continuing to evaluate the policy and protocols put in place.
A further amendment called for the policy to be repealed if the provincial government were to bring in equal or greater protocols.
It is expected the city will release full details of these new mandates shortly to the public explaining the full range of measures and facilities impacted.
In making their decision, North Battleford joins a growing number of communities that have imposed mandates in the wake of growing case numbers of COVID-19 due to the Delta variant.
Cities that have imposed mask mandates at their city facilities include Saskatoon, Regina and Prince Albert. Regina has even gone so far as to include proof of vaccination requirements.
However, it was pointed out by Niesink that Regina delayed the implementation of that latter requirement until November.
At this point, North Battleford is not requiring proof of vaccinations to enter city facilities. The consensus among council was that it was too soon to consider those measures.
“I think we’re a little ahead of ourselves on that one,” said Councillor Greg Lightfoot, who suggested they wait for more guidance on that point.
However Councillor Thomas “Bill” Ironstand was one of those wanting to get moving on proof of vaccinations.
“Let’s start the ball rolling on that … let’s not be waiting until the numbers come down provincially.”
Already, the city has re-imposed mask mandates and distancing requirements for city staff, effective Sept. 7. These new measures approved Monday apply to the public as well.
Council members took turns criticizing the provincial government for not coming up with mask mandates of their own, and called out the province for a lack of leadership on the issue.
“We are not a health provider, we shouldn’t have to make these decisions,” said Councillor Kent Lindgren, who made it known he thought imposing a mask mandate was a provincial responsibility.
“Now the approach seems to be ‘you’re on your own’… Our hand is being forced,” said Lindgren.
“This should not be something the municipality should have to deal with,” said Councillor Lightfoot, echoing the sentiments around the table.
Councillor Kelli Hawtin went so far as to say she wouldn’t support the mask mandate resolution, because it was the province’s responsibility to bring those public health measures in.
“I think masking is a decision that’s not ours to make,” said Hawtin, who nevertheless supported mask mandates and vaccinations.
Others on council felt it necessary for the city to take action immediately.
“I think we should do our part, the part that we are allowed to do,” said Mayor David Gillan, referring to jurisdiction over city facilities. He supported approving the resolution.
Others were even more vocal. “I believe as an administration we need to step up and keep our community safe,” said Councillor Ironstand, who spoke out early in the discussion in support of the measures. He also said he believes council had wide support from the public for bringing a mask mandate in.
“I believe our community is behind us in this and I believe we need to be leaders and do this.”
Councillor Len Taylor cited provincial numbers and said there was “no doubt action has to be taken,” as COVID-19 continues to spread. He noted a new record number of cases reported Monday by the province: 449 across Saskatchewan.
Taylor pointed out that the Northwest region was the third-fastest growing in the number of cases, behind Saskatoon and a far north region. He also noted the stress on Battlefords Union Hospital.
“We had people moved out of the hospital here, by the way, to Unity, because there wasn’t room for the non-COVID people. They’ve been moved to Unity to make room for COVID people – unvaccinated COVID people in North Battleford, that have come out of the Northwest to this hospital.”
Ironstand noted he workd in front-line health care on a daily basis, and said staff are “burning out.”
“The head of the SHA is saying we need a masking protocol to come forward and the province and the provincial medical health officer [are] not listening to him,” said Ironstand.
“We’re not far away from going back to lock down and people don’t realize that.”