Relief, caution and frustration as Alberta eases restrictions for some businesses

As personal services in Alberta prepare to reopen after a month-long closure, business owners are responding with relief, caution and frustration. 

A week after Premier Jason Kenney said current COVID-19 restrictions would remain in effect until at least Jan. 21, the government announced it would allow services such as hair salons and barber shops to reopen on an appointment basis come Monday.

Amy Laing, co-owner of the Ponytails and Horseshoes salon in the Garneau neighbourhood, said the government go-ahead was welcome, if not surprising. 

“I was a little bit shocked. I actually thought it was going to be extended,” she said. 

The government ordered the business and others like it to close on Dec. 13, at a time when Alberta was regularly reporting over 1,600 new cases a day. That number has since steadily dropped with 785 new cases reported Friday. 

“I think this industry has proven to be really, really on top of their protocols, so I would expect everybody to continue that trend and make sure people are as safe as can be,” Laing said. 

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw delivered a similar message on Thursday, saying the decision to ease restrictions on personal and wellness services was based on provincial transmission data and international research. 

Nail salons, tanning studios and floatation tanks are also included on the list of businesses permitted to reopen Monday. 

While those businesses must follow mandatory physical distancing and mask directives, Alberta Health confirmed Friday the government was not introducing any new capacity limits like the 15 per cent of fire code occupancy currently imposed on retail.

While tattoo studios are permitted to open Monday, artist Mary Godbout is wary of the government’s decision. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

At the Fox Runner Tattoo studio just off Whyte Avenue, artist Mary Godbout was wary of easing restrictions.

“It was both a mixture of joy and panic,” she said as she scrambled to reschedule bookings ahead of Monday’s reopening. 

Godbout said she worries the decision came too soon and fears the possibility of another closure in a matter of weeks. 

“I feel the lockdown decisions and rules have been a bit arbitrary,” she said. 

A similar number of people are in hospital with COVID-19 as of Friday compared with the beginning of December, despite a recent trend downward. 

The announcement dispirited other business owners, who remain closed indefinitely. Shara Vigeant, a personal trainer and owner of SVPT Fitness and Athletics, says the government’s restrictions “make no sense.” 

At SVPT Fitness, personal trainers work one-on-one with clients by appointment. Before the latest closure, she said the gym rigorously followed sanitization and spacing requirements.

Clients used a contact-tracing app to alert the gym if they had been exposed to COVID, she said. Vigeant said her business is more akin to a personal service than a “big box” gym. 

“I’m setting the standard for gym safety,” she said. “So the fact that I can’t reopen is extremely frustrating because I’m being lumped in with other business models that aren’t similar.”

While gyms must remain closed, a trainer can conduct one-on-one classes at a client’s home or outdoors. It’s a baffling exception, Vigeant said. 

“It’s OK for a trainer to bounce around from house to house, but then they say you can’t socially gather? It makes no sense, especially when they could come into my facility and we’re following all the regulations.” 

Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan said gyms and other sectors had done “outstanding work” to follow measures and limit spread. 

“However, our data indicates that more exposures are linked to the other types of businesses that are currently closed than were linked to personal services. This is due to the inherent nature of activities that take place in these settings,” he said in a statement. 

Museums, casinos, bowling alleys and banquet halls remain closed. 

It’s OK for a trainer to bounce around from house to house, but then they say you can’t socially gather?– Shara Vigeant, personal trainer and owner of SVPT Fitness and Athletics

Christina Yun, owner of Dollhouse Hair Boutique and Barber Blonde, expects this weekend to bring a rush of requests from customers eager to book an appointment after the month-long closure. 

“It’s been a little bit crazy. The phones have just been ringing off the hook,” she said. 

“I’m grateful that our community has been doing their due diligence and the numbers have gone down and we are able to open early.” 

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