ATHABASCA – Athabasca mayor Colleen Powell is more than willing to support any measure that will reduce the spread of COVID-19, but she has major disagreements with how the provincial government has handled the pandemic.
At town council’s regular meeting Sept. 7, councillors discussed the potential for a new mask bylaw, after the bylaw introduced in November was rescinded at the end of June when the province announced it would be eliminating most of the restrictions introduced as part of Alberta’s Open for Summer plan. Since then, positive COVID cases are once again on the rise across the Athabasca region—well past the thresholds that were set to activate the original bylaw.
According to the geospatial map on the Alberta government’s website, the Athabasca region, which includes the town, Athabasca County and Village of Boyle, now accounts for 47 positive cases, as of the latest numbers released Sept. 9.
Powell noted the item had been added to the meeting agenda prior to the government announcement Sept. 3 that masks would once again be required in public spaces, but the discussion that ensued made it clear there was no appetite among councillors to put additional restrictions in place. As such, no motions were presented.
“I've noticed that some communities, mostly the cities, are still putting in their own mask bylaws. I don't know if you want to contemplate doing something similar. The only thing it would do is reinforce our belief that we should be paying attention to COVID, and taking appropriate precautions,” she told councillors.
Municipal bylaws are superseded by provincial legislation and would only come into effect if provincial guidelines were not already in place, which is why the temporary face-covering bylaw was rescinded before the Open for Summer plan was put in place.
Powell also expressed her disappointment in how the provincial government has handled the pandemic, especially the latest announcement that offered $100 to those who have been unwilling to get their inoculations to this point.
“I wouldn't want to support what they're doing because I think what you're doing is incorrect. I would take a motion supporting any measure that's going to help reduce COVID, but rewarding people who've got their vaccinations and letting them go places and open their businesses is probably better.”
Coun. John Traynor, a teacher, said leaving school COVID policies to individual school divisions was another download from the province, but added he would like to see people make their own decisions, and pointed out that some who have already had both shots are still being diagnosed with the virus.
“People think they’re safe because they got both shots and vaccinations and that they’re in the clear, but that’s not necessarily the case, and we’re right back at square one,” he said.
Powell replied while that may be true, vaccines drastically reduce the severity of the virus once a person becomes infected, and making sure Alberta hospitals are able to accept patients other than those infected with COVID-19 was crucial.
“For us to go beyond what the provincial government mandated, I don't think it's necessary,” said Coun. Rob Balay.
“I agree with you there, but I do think they made an error in this case,” Powell replied.