‘Free of the mask’: Businesses taking cautious approach to Alberta’s full reopening

Alberta lifted almost all its remaining COVID-19 restrictions Thursday, but many businesses said they are taking a more cautious approach as things start to return to normal.

There are no more limits on indoor and outdoor social gatherings, no more capacity limits on restaurants, stores and places of worship. Weddings and other celebrations are back on.

Alberta is also lifting its mask mandate. The exception is in Calgary, where the city has decided to revisit its mandatory mask bylaw on Monday.

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‘It’s unfortunate’: Jason Kenney on Calgary’s criticism of province ending mask mandate – Jun 23, 2021

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Shoppers in grocery stores and diners at restaurants are free to go maskless, although it is up to individual businesses to decide how comfortable they are reverting to pre-pandemic norms.

“The board is even a little bit split on the issue,” said Jeff Jamieson, president of the Alberta Hospitality Association and the owner of Donna Mac and Proof restaurants in Calgary.

“Everybody was pretty excited to no longer have a mask on, but I do know some businesses where they’re asking their servers to continue to wear masks.”

READ MORE: As Alberta prepares to peel back public health measures, doctors offer advice

Jamieson said his restaurants will allow servers to ditch face coverings once it’s allowed in Calgary. He expects most others across the province will do the same.

“I think most businesses and people in those businesses are going to make the choice to be free of the mask.”

READ MORE: COVID-19: Alberta public health measures to end on July 1

A public affairs spokeswoman with Sobeys said all its stores have followed public health orders during the pandemic, but Alberta employees will now have final say on masks.

“Masks are now recommended instead of mandatory,” said Sarah Dawson. “All other safety measures remain in place to keep our stores a safe environment to work and shop.”

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Sobeys Inc. operates more than 1,500 stores in all provinces under a variety of banners, including Safeway, IGA and FreshCo.

READ MORE: Businesses, residents react to Alberta inching closer to Stage 3 of reopening plan

All COVID-19 safety measures will remain in effect in at least two of Alberta’s hardest-hit sectors during the pandemic.

The JBS meat-packing plant in Brooks, Alta., and Cargill’s facility in High River, Alta., will keep safety protocols in place. Cargill had one of the largest outbreaks during the pandemic.

“At this time, our employees are still required to wear masks as part of our commitment to safety and effort to slow the communitywide spread of COVID-19,” said Cargill spokesman Daniel Sullivan.

“We continue to review our protocols with medical professionals and will revise in conjunction with local health guidance as appropriate.”

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In the Fort McMurray region, there have been 20 outbreaks at oilsands sites or work camps. One company, Cenovus Energy, said safeguards will remain in place at the facilities it operates.

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“Our oilsands sites … continue to observe well-established COVID-19 protocols,” said senior media adviser Reg Curren. “For now, masking and physical-distancing protocols remain in place.”

READ MORE: Why did Canada’s two biggest COVID-19 workplace outbreaks get so big, so fast?

The president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, the union that represents meat-packing and grocery workers in Alberta, is worried that Premier Jason Kenney has moved ahead with the reopening without an appropriate amount of caution.

“Leave all the protocols in place that currently exist in workplaces from supermarkets to meat-packing plants, and then let’s conduct a review in 30 to 60 days with some medical professionals,” Tom Hesse said.

“His approach is untested. When there’s an unknown, when you’re dealing with worker health and safety, you should err on the side of caution.”

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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