Last week we heard from a local Cochrane resident who has started an online petition regarding the mask bylaw which was put in place on July 29.
Although masks aren't currently mandatory in town, the bylaw states that residents in Cochrane will have to mask up in public indoor spaces and public transit, IF the number of active COVID-19 cases rises to 10 or more.
Local resident Katrina Kitchen is the name behind the petition and she says that the passed bylaw is an infringement of her rights. Kitchen wants town council to hold a public hearing to revisit the subject and allow input from residents. She has set a goal to gain 500 signatures from likeminded Cochranites who share her viewpoint, and she's halfway there.
During the initial meeting on July 29, town council voted 5 to 2 in favour of the bylaw and a second meeting was forced to allow for third reading of the bylaw, which doesn't require unanimous consent.
Councillors Patrick Wilson and Morgan Nagel stood opposed to the bylaw. Nagel has been vocal on the matter and launched a poll prior to July's special meeting to hear which side of the coin most Cochranites were on.
With 3,300 responses to his survey, two-thirds said that wearing a mask should remain their choice.
At that time, Nagel stated his concern for lack of public consultation, saying "We are just making knee-jerk reaction decisions to deal with our immediate concerns today, not really starting to ask if we are setting a good precedence. I think it has been a terrible precedence."
Town Councillor Tara McFadden voted in favour of the bylaw and says that she stands by her decision.
"I do support the bylaw as it was written. I think it was quite innovative in how Cochrane chose to approach it and again, it doesn't come into effect until those cases hit 10. Hundreds of thousands of people are dying from this, it's not a hoax and we have to take it seriously. In this time I think it's a responsible tradeoff to be asking people to wear masks if necessary, so we can get through this with as many people alive and healthy as possible."
McFadden says that although a formal public hearing wasn't called before the bylaw was passed, there was a lot of informal public engagement done on her part as well as many of the other councillors.
"We did follow all of the regulations in reaching that bylaw, and I know a number of us councillors also reached out through our various networks to get feedback. I know a number of us did Facebook polls in our own networks, I reached out through my email group, so I think a lot of informal public engagement had been done, and of course, we do have the authority to make these types of decisions.
When the bylaw was put in place there were six active cases of COVID-19 in Cochrane. That number has since dropped. Cochrane was actually sitting at zero active cases for several weeks but is now recording four active cases of the virus.
McFadden says that stopping the spread of COVID-19 is a responsibility we all share collectively. She says that overall, she's proud of Cochrane residents for keeping numbers low and making responsible choices.
McFadden says that she hopes Cochranites will continue to follow COVID-19 protocol as we head into the fall.
"I am really proud of Cochrane for doing that and hopefully as we move into the fall and we get back to school and all those other interactions when someone is over, we can continue to make those smart choices."
While the great mask debate continues to be heated one in town, Cochrane residents are in fact choosing.
By residents continuing to make those 'smart choices' COVID numbers can stay low in our town and inturn the mandatory face mask bylaw won't have to go into effect.