As P.E.I.'s mask mandate lifts, businesses and organizations across the Island are adapting to the new rules — some excited to see masking rules removed and others planning to keep masking in place for a little while longer.
The P.E.I. government has removed the rules requiring the wearing of masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 for most indoor public spaces. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison told CBC News earlier this week wearing masks is still strongly recommended.
Businesses and organizations may continue to set their own rules on mask-wearing for staff and visitors.
Dr. Lisa Barrett, an infectious diseases specialist at Dalhousie University, noted the number of COVID-19 infections on P.E.I. is still high, and that the number of deaths from the disease in Nova Scotia went up after restrictions were lifted.
"Don't worry about the mandate," Barrett recommended.
"Wear the mask in public, keep your gathering sizes moderate, and, you know, stay home when you're sick. Those are really great lessons that we've learned that don't have to be confusing."
She said vaccination is the foundation for protection in the pandemic, but the experience in Nova Scotia is that limiting gathering sizes and wearing masks work.
"Keep using them a little longer, or we will inevitably see more deaths in our most vulnerable — it's older folks — and that doesn't have to happen."
'We're ready for it'
Ashley Nelson, manager of HighMart Convenience Store in Charlottetown, said the store opened in August 2020 and this summer will be the first that's "somewhat normal."
She said wearing a mask will now be a choice for customers at her store, and will no longer be required.
"We're excited for it, we're ready for it," Nelson said.
She said she had conversations with staff and customers leading up to the mandate lifting to find out how people were feeling about the change.
"Consensus is I think everybody is just as excited and as happy as most everybody is, I think. Just to be finally in this next stage of normalcy," she said.
She said as the Island welcomes more visitors throughout the summer months, her store will keep certain measures in place, like regular sanitizing throughout the store and limiting the number of people allowed inside at a time.
Nelson said while masks won't be required in her store, she plans to keep wearing hers a while longer and will have some available to customers and staff who want to wear one.
"Hopefully it will be a good summer for all small businesses, downtown especially we hope," Nelson said. "Hopefully this is a summer of new and fresh beginnings."
Discussions with staff and customers
Moyna Matheson owns Samuel's Coffee House in Summerside and says she also has had discussions with her staff and customers leading up to the mask mandate lifting.
"Varied options on both sides of the counter," she said. "We have some staff who may not be quite ready for that change and I'm sure there are some patrons who are not quite ready for that change."
She said she will support any staff member of customer who wants to continue wearing a mask, but it will be optional. Matheson said the shop will also support any customers who aren't ready to dine in a space where people aren't wearing masks by providing other options.
"Since day one we have given multiple options for serving people, whether it's back-door pick-up or our drive-thru locations, so if there are people that are not comfortable with this new mandate, there are options to continue to serve those people."
Matheson said the pandemic presented challenges for businesses, but also created opportunities to come up with new ways to serve customers, which she thinks are here to stay.
"I just kind of think that those things will always be there because some people have become accustomed to this new way of services and that will just always be there for them," she said.
The owner of Seaside Books on Water Street in Summerside said she's not ready to take her mask off just yet and she's asking others who come to her store t o keep theirs on as well.
"Since last June when the mask mandate dropped for the summer I had a sign on my front door that says 'kindly mask'," said Nancy Quinn.
"I plan to continue leaving the sign on the door ... because I have a very diverse and every age demographic into my shop and I respect all of those people — children, elders, immunocompromised — I will continue to wear a mask."
Quinn said she's found the majority of people have been compliant and happy to wear a mask since the mandates have been in place and she hopes to see the same respect of her store rules moving forward.
She said she plans to keep masking in place there until later in the summer when she can open doors and windows and have more fresh air in the shop.
"I consider Seaside Bookshop as a community place and you know, with that in mind, I want to ensure the safety of my community and this is just one little way. I demand it of myself and I ask it of my customers," Quinn said.
Masks are still required in some settings, including hospitals, long-term and community-care homes, public transit, and for students and staff in primary and secondary schools when they are on buses and when not seated in class.
Regardless of the particular rules in the places you are visiting, Dr. Lisa Barrett said it makes sense to be careful if you know you're going to be around a vulnerable person, and take extra precautions for a few days before the visit.