Mask use, vax status remain city hall talking points
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/02/2022 (349 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Mayor Brian Bowman would still prefer requiring Winnipeggers to mask-up to enter city facilities and buses, but agrees enforcing such a rule would be tough without provincial orders to back it up.
“The preference would be to have masks mandated in city facilities, but given the provincial public health orders and concerns from our staff regarding the ability to enforce, I’m supporting our (chief administrative officer’s) decision, which is in his authority,” Bowman told reporters Thursday.
On Wednesday, the City of Winnipeg announced the public will no longer be required to wear masks while riding Transit or visiting civic facilities (such as libraries and pools) by March 15, when the province will end its mask requirement for indoor public places.
Mask mandates, among many other health orders, were introduced to limit the spread of COVID-19.
City workers will still be required to wear masks after the provincial mandate ends. The mayor believes council members should also continue to use the personal equipment.
“At least for the near future, I’ll continue to wear a mask… as a courtesy to my colleagues,” said Bowman.
During Thursday’s council meeting, the mayor voted in favour of a motion that would have formally required elected officials to remain masked at nearly all times within council chambers, unless they are actively eating or drinking.
That motion was defeated, however, with some councillors deeming initial mask rules sufficient, which allow them to remove their masks while at their socially distanced desks.
“I don’t really see the value in not being able to take off your mask, except for when you are going to take a sip of a coffee,” said Coun. Ross Eadie.
Others questioned the call to implement tougher rules for elected officials, just as the province backs off its mask mandates.
Meanwhile, two councillors are calling to rescind the requirement for elected officials and their staff to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter the city council building.
Eadie raised the motion, which will be debated at council’s executive policy committee next month. He told the Free Press it makes sense to end the requirement now, since provincial proof-of-vaccination mandates for public venues will end March 1.
The city expects to lift that requirement at civic facilities on the same date.
Eadie believes council members and political staff who are willing to get vaccinated have already done so.
“Nothing’s going to change on the status of who’s vaccinated down here at city hall (at this point)… It’s no longer of use is really the point,” he said.
The motion was seconded by Coun. Vivian Santos, who has confirmed she is not vaccinated. Santos did not answer a request for comment Thursday.
Bowman told media he would not support that change, calling it “premature.”
“I think the idea of removing proof-of-vaccination requirements at this stage, given the current provincial public health orders at this time, (is) premature,” he said.
The mayor said he does not have a timeline in mind for when the vaccine mandate for elected municipal officials might end.
The city has also announced it is working on a “flexible” plan for many staff to return to in-person work, which could allow some remote work to continue.
Economic development advocates and business owners have urged the city to set an example by having municipal staff who worked downtown before the pandemic return to the city centre as soon as possible. Since the area’s businesses rely heavily on office workers as customers, the measure is recommended to help kick start the economic recovery from COVID-19.
The mayor said he hopes to bring office workers back downtown, but agrees the city must also consider the needs of workers.
“I’d like to see as many people coming back as possible but I also respect the fact there will be unique needs for respective employees,” said Bowman.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.