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Penhold questioning enforcement on indoor gatherings

Town still sifting through new COVID rules
MVT stock COVID-19
On Nov. 24 the Alberta government announced new COVID-19 rules for the province, including strict province-wide limits on indoor gatherings.

PENHOLD – The town’s mayor understands why indoor gatherings are being targeted by the province under new strict COVID guidelines but believes enforcement as it stands today could be problematic.

Mayor Mike Yargeau said if citizens follow the reporting it shows that most of the positive cases are coming from private gatherings and parties, but, he added, there is an unsettled enforcement issue.

“How are you going to stop someone, is they want people in their house, and what role should the municipality play in on enforcing that? There are a lot of questions we have about that,” said Yargeau, who was on a Zoom conference call with area mayors Wednesday morning (Nov. 25) sorting out the new tough rules announced Nov. 24 by Premier Jason Kennedy’s provincial government.

One of those issues is how municipalities will be able to enforce the tough new province-wide rule that indoor close contacts must be limited to people in the same household. The indoor gathering rule adds that people who live alone can have up to the same two non-household contacts.

“We don’t have that authority yet, for one. The province did mention they are looking at allowing peace officers to enforce public health measures,” said Yargeau. “During the first public health emergency peace officers were allowed to enforce those rules and then the province took that ability away.

“As it stands today our peace officers couldn’t enforce it if we wanted to,” he added. “The province would have to, whether amend the Peace Officer Act or whatever, to allow local peace officers to enforce public health measures. They did say they were working towards that but they haven’t. It is not an option yet.”

Last March peace officers were given provincial government approval to enforce the Public Health Act. That ended in June when the province ended the state of public health emergency. With yesterday’s declaration of a new state of public health emergency, a government bulletin has not yet been updated as to whether municipal peace officers can once again enforce COVID regulations.

Despite questions over the indoor gathering issue, Yargeau did say he was “glad” to see COVID guideline changes as he felt citizens “needed some direction” from the province, a point he made aggressively and publicly clear earlier this month.

“Whether this is enough or too much or too little I kind of concede my ground to the public health experts, so if they are saying this is good, I support it,” said Yargeau. “As far as what it means for Penhold we are just going through that this morning figuring out where we stand with the new rules.”

As for the always controversial face mask issue, the mayor said that was also discussed by area mayors. The province announced on Nov. 24 that effective Nov. 24, masks are mandatory in all indoor workplaces in the Calgary and Edmonton areas. This applies to all employees, visitors, delivery personnel and contractors.

However, outside those areas, including in enhanced status regions such as Penhold, it will be up to individual municipalities to make their own decisions on whether the wearing of masks should be legislated.

“We are working through that too, to kind of see where everyone stands on that,” said Yargeau. “I do think smaller communities are in a unique situation compared to larger centres. In Penhold we are pretty limited as far as indoor public spaces go.”

He said part of his task for Nov. 25 was to reach out to larger local businesses to see what they want from the municipality on the mask issue.

“I would have preferred to have seen a province-wide ruling than leaving it to individual municipalities but at the same time I understand why we didn’t get that,” said Yargeau, adding he is a supporter of wearing a mask during the pandemic.

 “When I go into Red Deer and into any stores, I am wearing a mask. If it means there is a one per cent chance, I am not going to infect somebody that might have pre-existing conditions and might get really sick, then I will do that,” said Yargeau. “I have no problem wearing a mask. I totally support the science behind it.

“I am not a public health expert but we have some really good ones in Alberta and if they say wearing a mask is important and helps, and then they are right.”