EDMONTON -- Edmonton's COVID-19 task force chair acknowledged criticism of the city's mask exemption program Tuesday, but said he believes most residents will "do the right thing" when it comes to wearing a face covering in public places.

The face covering bylaw was introduced on Aug. 1, making masks mandatory in all indoor public places and public vehicles, including transit, until Dec. 31.

Over the weekend, Ward 3 Coun. Jon Dziadyk announced an exemption card program for the mask rule.

“Qualifying individuals can be exempt, and we’ve just issued a program where you can demonstrate proof of exemption by having a card that’s being handed out for free,” Dziadyk said.

The exemption cards are being handed out on an "honour system" at several recreation facilities throughout the city. More than 1,200 cards were handed out on Saturday.

The exemption program prompted some backlash on social media, with many saying exemptions should be determined by doctors — not recreation centre staff.

The city said it's asking residents to follow the honour system when requesting an exemption because requiring a doctor's note would not be a good use of health care resources, a hope echoed by COVID-19 task force chair David Aitken on Tuesday.

"The most important point I want to make is that the program is based on trust, an honour system that Edmontonians will do the right thing," said Aitken.

He said the city decided on the mask exemption card program after hearing some people with medical issues that prevent them from wearing face coverings were being denied service, including at some essential businesses like grocery stores.

"We heard they are being confronted and in some cases denied service," said Aitken. "This is not the Edmonton way."

The bylaw already has some exceptions, including for children under two, people who are unable to put on or remove a face mask without assistance, or while engaging in activities that would require the removal of a face covering — like having a passport photo taken or dental work performed.

Aitken addressed concerns from businesses worried about permitting maskless customers into their stores. Ultimately, businesses can decided whether or not they permit customers without face coverings.

"As the city, we'd ask those businesses to be cognizant that there are exemptions," he said, adding anyone seeking an exemption would only go to the trouble of sourcing a card if they "really need it."

Compliance so far with the city's mandatory mask covering bylaw has been good, Aitken said, with peace officers reporting roughly 80 per cent of people in public spaces are wearing them. On transit, compliance is at 96 per cent.