EDMONTON — Alberta is planning to distribute 20 million non-medical masks for free at hundreds of drive-thru fast-food restaurants.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro says it's one more way to keep Albertans safe as the economy reopens following shutdowns forced by COVID-19.
"As the province relaunches and we all adapt to our new normal, we all may sometimes find ourselves where physical distancing may not be possible," Shandro told a news conference Friday.
"For example, riding transit in the province or shopping ... where it may be difficult to maintain two metres between people at all times.
"Mask use is not mandatory, but we would like Albertans to have the option of wearing a mask if they choose."
Shandro said that starting in early June, people will be able to use drive-thru lanes at McDonald's, A&W and Tim Hortons to pick up single use, three-layer, non-medical masks designed to filter germs and pollution particles.
The masks come in packages of four, and one package will be handed out per person.
No food purchase is necessary to obtain them, said Shandro, and no money is going to the restaurant chains for pick-up or distribution.
At just below $1 per mask, the province is spending just under $2 million on the project. About $350,000 will be spent on getting masks to remote areas that don't have those restaurants.
But Shandro said 95 per cent of Albertans live within 10 kilometres of a drive-thru. The participating businesses have about 600 drive-thrus in the province.
He said the masks can be picked up only in drive-thru lanes, not inside the restaurant, to maintain physical distancing.
He acknowledged that four masks per person is not enough in the long term, but will help some people get through the crunch of the crisis and that Albertans are encouraged to source their own masks in the future.
Asked how he hopes to prevent hoarding, Shandro said, "We're not asking for folks to bring in their health-care card and get it punched to show they've already picked up.
"This is on the honour system."
He said it's acceptable for people to pick up masks on behalf of those who can't do so in person.
Tanya Doucette, who operates eight Tim Hortons franchises in central Alberta, said customers were understanding when her staff closed in-store service and moved to drive-thru and delivery service only.
She expects the same will happen as they continue reopening in-store service to half capacity and begin distributing masks.
"We won't be asking our team members to police the program. We'll just ask them to follow the guidelines as they are set out by the province," said Doucette in an interview.
"I think we can count on Albertans to utilize the program in the spirit it is meant."
Alberta has completed the first phase of its economic relaunch. Retail shops, restaurants, day cares, barber shops, hair salons, farmers markets and places of worship have reopened with some conditions.
Outdoor gatherings are currently limited to 50 people, and indoor gatherings to 15.
The next phase is scheduled to begin June 19 with the reopening of stage and movie theatres, spas and services like manicures, pedicures and massages.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 29, 2020