Alberta lifts most COVID-19 restrictions but not all Edmonton shops ready to ditch the mask

·3 min read
Staff at restaurants and pubs are free to remove masks for the first time in nearly a year, if employers allow it.  (Sam Martin/CBC - image credit)
Staff at restaurants and pubs are free to remove masks for the first time in nearly a year, if employers allow it. (Sam Martin/CBC - image credit)

Alberta lifted nearly all COVID-19 restrictions Thursday but not all businesses and customers are planning to fully embrace the freedom.

Under the province's Stage 3 reopening people are no longer required to wear masks indoors in most settings. Most cities and towns, including Edmonton, have followed suit with their own bylaws.

But many stores and salons in Edmonton say they will continue to mandate masks for their staff for the month of July.

John Gluwchynski, proprietor and stylist at the Cutting Room in west Edmonton, said he's asking clients to wear a mask until most people are fully vaccinated.

Gluwchynski said he'll have masks on hand for clients who don't bring their own but for the most part, he doesn't anticipate much pushback.

"I feel like in general, talking to people, people feel comfortable with them," Gluwchynski said in an interview Wednesday. "It's just a matter of just being safer than sorry."

Tony Ricci, owner of Ricci Hair Co., is keeping the mask requirement for his stylists and strongly recommending masks for clients.

He said his staff were a bit nervous about the province's move to remove the measure this early, he said.

"As a team, we decided that we're all going to wear them and clients are going to wear them at least until we're 70 per cent double vaccinated as a population," Ricci said Wednesday. "Then I'll revisit it and maybe I'll open it up a bit more."

Signs stay for now

Some store operators are leaving masks to the discretion of staff and customers but will retain certain measures, like asking people to practise physical distancing.

Kelly Hodgson, operations manager at United Sport and Cycle, said he's taking down the signs that showed the limited number of people allowed in the store — the most recent a 30 per cent capacity of fire code.

"We'll still have social distancing signs on the floor, up on our doors and throughout our store."

Hodgson said about 80 per cent of their staff are fully vaccinated and expects the majority will go without masks soon, but that it's far from a back to normal scenario.

"I would say the mood of our customers, the mood of our store is not 'July 1st is a switch and it's all of a sudden everything is different," Hodgson said in an interview Wednesday. "I still think it's going to be an evolution."

Business associations are asking customers to be respectful and heed the wishes of individual stores.

Several shops in Old Strathcona will require customers to wear masks, including Track and Trail, Vivid Print and the Paint Shop.

Puneetta McBryan, executive director of the Downtown Business Association, is asking people to plan ahead and be patient.

"If you refuse to wear a mask where you're asked to, you're free to politely take your business elsewhere," McBryan wrote in a LinkedIn post. "If service is slow or items are out of stock, take a deep breath and appreciate that you're out at all."

Other groups are embracing the reopening.

The Kingsway Legion Branch #175 is hosting a Canada Day celebration and is expecting 235 people to attend the dinner.

Bill Fecteau, legion branch president, said there are no COVID-19 restrictions in place.

'None whatsoever. They've all been lifted and everyone is happy about that," Fecteau told CBC Edmonton's Radio Active on Wednesday.

"If people still want to wear a mask, that's fine, but other than that there's no restrictions," Fecteau said.

Under the province's rules, masks are still required on public transit, in taxis and in ride-share vehicles until further notice.