As Sask. prepares to end COVID-19 restrictions, businesses are left to make their own rules

·5 min read
As Sask. prepares to end COVID-19 restrictions, businesses are left to make their own rules
Nikki van Duyvendyk, co-owner of Dutch Growers, at the company's store in Saskatoon, Sask., on June 23, 2021.   (Don Somers/CBC News - image credit)
Nikki van Duyvendyk, co-owner of Dutch Growers, at the company's store in Saskatoon, Sask., on June 23, 2021. (Don Somers/CBC News - image credit)

With Saskatchewan officially entering summer, the province is only weeks away from dropping all of its public COVID-19 restrictions.

That means as of July 11 there will be no limits on the size of gatherings, no mandatory masking and no requirements for social distancing.

After nearly 16 months of a global pandemic, the news has been welcomed by many and scorned by just as many who say that Saskatchewan is moving too quickly.

Stuck somewhere in the middle are business owners, who have been among the hardest hit by COVID-19 and are eager to see customers flood back.

'No shirt, no shoes, no service'

Jim Bence is the CEO and president of Hospitality Saskatchewan, an association representing approximately 400 companies in the province's hospitality sector.

"Everybody knows that the virus is here to stay. And we'll be wrestling with this for a while. But really, it is that sense of almost disbelief that this is coming to an end in most respects," he said.

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When the province's restrictions drop, businesses will have to decide whether to institute their own rules or embrace the new normal, Bence said.

That could mean accommodating customers or employees who feel apprehensive about interacting with one another without a mask.

"Operators can have whatever rules they want in place. You know, no shoes, no shirt, no service," Bence said.

He said none of the business operators in his association plan to implement restrictions past the province's schedule.

Growing into the moment

Dutch Growers, a family-owned home and garden centre with stores in Regina and Saskatoon, is taking a holistic approach.

The business was among the first to open during the pandemic and chose to implement a mandatory mask policy well ahead of the province doing so.

"We just felt that's what we wanted to do to keep our staff, our family ... and our customers safe," said Nikki van Duyvendyk, a co-owner.

Don Somers/CBC News
Don Somers/CBC News

Duyvendyk said Dutch Growers initially got a lot of pushback, but that many customers welcomed the move.

Next month the business will drop mandatory masking in stores, although any customer or employee is encouraged to wear one if they feel more comfortable doing so.

The company will also keep many of the practices it adopted during the pandemic. That includes hand sanitzer stations at the doors, steaming of all the clothing that gets tried on and frequent cleaning. van Duyvendyk said the decision came from consultations with staff and customers, and that the policies just make sense.

"It doesn't hurt to be safe," she said. "This may be the new normal for us."

'Best for the organization and for employees'

For businesses that have corporate offices as well as public, customer-facing operations, the switch to no restrictions means development of policies for both sides of the company.

Conexus Credit Union, which operates 30 branches throughout the province, is one of those businesses.

Its corporate head office on College Avenuue in Regina is designed for around 200 employees, but had far fewer for much of the pandemic as staff transitioned to working from home.

Conexus Credit Union/Submitted
Conexus Credit Union/Submitted

Tara McKeown, the chief employee experience officer at Conexus, said its plans are informed by the provincial government's reopening plan, but that it is not rushing to meet specific dates.

"We're still going to make sure that whatever we do works best for the organization and for employees," she said.

The company is now trying to strike a balance, which she admits will be a learning process for everyone.

McKeown said Conexus is not going to bring every worker back into the office at once and that some employees actually worked better from home.

Employees or customers will be allowed to wear masks if that makes them feel comfortable, she said.

Municipalities looking to province

Two of the province's largest municipalities said they're still working to determine what their approach will be when restrictions disappear next month.

Whatever policies they choose will govern how leisure centres operate.

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The City of Saskatoon's EMO director Pamela Goulden-McLeod said the city will encourage anyone wanting to wear a mask to do so.

"We want to ensure that people feel safe in their workplace and are safe in their workplace," she said.

Saskatoon is still looking to incorporate the province's Occupational Health and Safety rules on COVID-19 before it makes a definitive list of rules, Goulden-McLeod said.

In a statement, the City of Regina said it plans to share finalized plans for the community and its workplaces in the coming days.

A request to be kind

Bence said Hospitality Saskatchewan's members have already begun to notice an increase in revenue and an uptick in traffic as Saskatchewan residents sense that the worst of the pandemic may finally be over

That's exciting news for businesses that have experienced a downturn.

Don Somers/CBC News
Don Somers/CBC News

van Duyvendyk said she is urging the public the be patient as businesses transition.

Many customers and business owners are nervous, she said, and this will require co-operation and kindness.

"Every day it'll get easier, but I think we just have to be above all else, very kind and considerate to one another. We've all been through a lot this past year and a half," said van Duvyendyk.

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