Retailers are breathing a sigh of relief after the provincial health officer announced a mandatory mask order, but gyms and funeral homes will face financial challenges in light of tougher restrictions brought in Thursday to clamp down on rising COVID-19 cases.
Teri Hustins, who owns two Oscar & Libby’s novelty stores downtown, was “super relieved” when she heard provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announce that masks will be required for all indoor public and retail spaces.
“It’s mainly because many of our staff had health concerns,” said Hustins. “Our stores are small and space is limited, so they were worried, particularly after the summer season when the weather got colder.”
Jill Glowicki, a partner in seven tourism stores downtown, including Northwest Origins, began making mandatory mask signs for all the stores immediately after the announcement. “The staff feel satisfied with it,” said Glowicki.
She said restrictions on non-essential travel announced by the province could hurt traffic in the stores, but she is hopeful more locals will shop for Christmas to offset some of the losses caused by the closure of the U.S. border and cancellation of the cruise-ship season. “Now we just want to see everyone get through this safely.”
The mask order for staff and customers was welcomed by the Fairway Markets chain of grocery stores.
“It will prevent the spread of the virus because the numbers have been climbing,” said Fairway vice-president Robert Jay. “Masks will help slow it down.”
Jay said the grocer has had a face-covering policy for several months. Now, with masks being made mandatory, he said staff can rely on law enforcement if employees find themselves confronted in a threatening manner.
He said updated signage is going up immediately.
The Retail Council of Canada urged the province this week to make masks mandatory for all indoor public places in B.C.
The council said the health and safety of retail workers and customers is put at risk when shoppers refuse to wear masks in stores.
Public health officials said transmission of the virus in an increasing number of cases is being traced to employees of businesses in places such as break rooms and common areas.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said active daily screenings such as temperature checks are required. “It has to be done every single day,” he said.
Shellie Gudgeon, owner of Il Terrazzo restaurant, said employees feeling ill are immediately sent home or told not to come to work until a doctor has given them a clean bill of health. She said daily temperature checks “will be happening ASAP.”
“It’s great to have solid orders to follow,” she said.
On Thursday, Keelan Clemens, who owns BPM Fitness Centre in Victoria, cancelled the fitness centre’s group classes, which include bootcamp and TRX training, following Henry’s announcement that high-intensity group fitness classes, spin classes and hot yoga must cease across the province.
The 28 group fitness classes a week accounted for about 95 per cent of BPM’s business, Clemens said, so he expects the business to take a major financial hit. The fitness centre will shift to individual workouts booked in advance or personal training sessions, he said.
Clemens said he is frustrated that Island fitness classes are paying the price for outbreaks that have happened in large gyms in the Lower Mainland. Last week, Fraser Health declared an outbreak at Platinum Athletic Club in Surrey after 42 cases of COVID were linked to the gym.
“The small group fitness has really been crucified for a problem that’s been tied to commercial gyms,” Clemens said.
An oft-cited case is the 85 cases of COVID linked to a spin class in Hamilton, but Clemens said there have been no outbreaks in any fitness classes on Vancouver Island.
“They’re really not using local examples to substantiate their claims that the problem is fitness classes,” he said.
At Royal Oak Burial Park, the region’s largest cemetery, staff face the difficult task of telling family members that funeral services are now being capped at 10 people, instead of the 50 allowed under the previous order.
Executive director Crystabelle Fobler said staff were contacting relatives about the revised order for funeral gatherings, telling them they must decide who will be attending a service.
She said the 10 includes the officiant, funeral director and pallbearers, potentially reducing the number of family members who can attend.
“It’s a tough situation,” said Fobler.
The burial park is working with funeral directors on the new order.