Saskatoon café owner ponders whether to keep masks mandatory after restrictions lift
SASKATOON -- Jimmy Oneschuk, who owns Museo Coffee Roasters in Saskatoon, said he hasn’t decided whether he will keep the mask mandate in effect at his store even after the province lifts it, but the measure has made his staff feel more safe.
“My staff have more confidence because of the mask mandate, so it’s really about if you’re dealing with 200 people a day, the chances someone might have COVID is pretty high, so you have to reduce that probability somehow,” he told CTV News.
Oneschuk said he has been taking it day-by-day and monitoring the caseload in the province – something that could impact his decision to continue asking customers and staff to mask up while in his store.
However, he has concerns about whether people will respect that decision.
“In the past, it has been very hard to ask people to do that when they are going against what the government has said,” Oneschuk said.
“There was a point in I think October where they allowed seating again and we didn’t allow seating but some of our competitors had brought back seating and then suddenly everybody expects us to also offer seating, but we were like ‘no, our space is 11 feet wide so we can’t.’”
The Saskatchewan government said it will lift public health orders, including mandatory masking and gathering limits, three weeks after 70 per cent of people age 12 and older have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine – and at least three weeks after Step Two.
If that threshold is reached by June 20, the province said all restrictions could be lifted by July 11.
The government said that while masks will no longer be required at this stage, people may still wear masks based on their own comfort level and requirements may be in effect in workplaces at the discretion of owners.
As of Wednesday, 67 per cent of people 12 and up have received their first dose.
As the province inches closer to that target, the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) is urging people to “proceed with caution.”
“COVID is still very active in Saskatchewan and now we have the Delta variant which is also growing in case numbers in Saskatchewan, that’s highly contagious,” SUN president Tracy Zambory said.
“We have to look at all the metrics in front of us. And that’s how many cases of variants of concern have we got going, how much hospitalization do we have, how many people are in the intensive care units? We still have people passing away in this province from COVID.”
Zambory said there is concern that the province could see a spike in Delta variant cases, putting Saskatchewan in a position where it has to roll back on its reopening plan, similar to what has happened in the United Kingdom.
“Rather than having to get ourselves into a scenario of having to pull back when there’s been a lot of promises made, people are getting excited about certain events that might take place, we just need to slow it down a bit, proceed with caution, making sure that at the very bottom of all of this, it is keeping the people of Saskatchewan healthy and out of hospital.”
Dr. Cory Neudorf, a public health physician and professor in the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan, agreed that it’s too soon to be considering lifting the mandatory mask mandate.
He said the province should wait until more people have been vaccinated with both doses.
“There really isn’t a big harm in keeping (the mask mandate) for a little while longer until we get those second dose immunization rates up high enough. So that would be the message for people is if we can, try to keep that up for a little while more into the summer until we’re sure that we’re safe,” he said.