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Okanagan hospitality workers face verbal abuse due to COVID-19 safety protocols

Click to play video 'Okanagan hospitality workers face verbal abuse due to COVID-19 safety protocols' Okanagan hospitality workers face verbal abuse due to COVID-19 safety protocols

More hospitality workers are speaking out about backlash from customers over COVID-19 safety protocols—urging patrons to treat staff with respect and take the precautions seriously.

Gail Lawson, a front desk employee at the Best Western Plus Wine Country Hotel & Suites in West Kelowna, B.C., says she’s had encounters with rudeness as a result of the coronavirus prevention rules.

“Mostly the odd rude comment and eye-roll, people tell me I don’t need to wear my mask, people saying that we are just being sheep, and then also people not liking the fact that we have been putting their ID in a basket and we don’t touch anything, they say they know there is nothing wrong with them,” she said.

Read more: ‘Completely unacceptable’: COVID-19 customer rudeness reaches breaking point in B.C.

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Lawson says the bad behavior reached a boiling point last week when she informed an Alberta man the hotel would be implementing a mandatory mask policy on Wednesday, July 29.

“He didn’t like that one bit, he got irritated — told us that we were just a bunch of sheep, that we were following a Hitler regime, and it was just absolutely ridiculous,” she said of the interaction.

The hotel policy requires also guests to wear non-medical masks in public spaces within the hotel. Lawson said the guest decided to cut his stay short in protest of the mask policy.

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“These people that are travelling, who have these kinds of opinions, they are obviously not taking any precautions themselves, so then it makes me wonder how much more at-risk I am,” she said.

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Lawson is in self-isolation after experiencing flu-like symptoms. She is getting tested for COVID-19 on Wednesday and fears she may have been exposed to the virus on the job.

Read more: Fine whines: Does complaining always work?

“I would say more than likely, it would be while I was at work.”

Lawson also expressed concern about the health and safety of the hotel’s housekeepers.

“They see people in the hallways coughing, not wearing masks, they are the ones that have to go in and clean the rooms and have that more direct contact with the items,” she said.

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A restaurant owner in Penticton, B.C., says he and his staff have also been subjected to “numerous incidents of harassment.”

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“Some guests do not want to follow the COVID-19 safety protocols we have in place (mostly tourists) and when they are corrected they have been lashing out unreasonably on the review sites,” said Gregory Condonopoulos, owner of Theo’s Restaurant.

Read more: Coronavirus: Calgary business charged with price gouging, Service Alberta says

He said while most guests are respectful and grateful for the safety protocols in place, he called the bad customer behavior a “systemic problem.”

“Operators have been left out dangling in the wind trying to enforce the government policies,” Condonopoulos said.

Both Condonopoulos and Lawson encourage customers to follow COVID-19 protocols and treat staff with dignity and respect.

“It’s not a big deal to put a mask on your face, whether you believe in it or not, it’s just respectful to the people that are around you and it makes them feel more at ease,” Lawson said.

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Meanwhile, the Interior Health region continues to see a surge in COVID-19 cases as the province moved to Phase 3 of its economic reopening plan on June 24, allowing recreational travel within the province.

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At least 90 cases have been connected to the “Kelowna cluster,” the health authority said, an outbreak that began around the July long weekend involving private parties.

Around 1,000 British Columbians are self-isolating after coming into contact with someone who tested positive for the virus.

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The Okanagan region is seeing skyrocketing cases, with 107 people diagnosed with COVID-19 between July 10-23.

All B.C. employers are required to have COVID-19 safety plans in place and must ensure both staff and patrons are following provincial health orders and recommendations.

People caught breaking the orders could face fines of up to $25,000 and jail terms of up to six months, under B.C.’s Public Health Act.