The government of Saskatchewan says it wants to level the playing field for businesses in Saskatoon, Regina and Prince Albert when it comes to masking policies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Tuesday, the province announced a 28-day mandatory mask order for most indoor public places will take effect in those cities starting Nov. 6.
“Some places say please wear a mask, some don’t,” said Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer.
“Now it just makes it … so that everyone just puts a mask on when they go in. It shouldn’t be up to the business owner.”
Shahab said the temporary order is an added measure to slow the “upward trend” of COVID-19 transmission rates in Saskatchewan over the last month.
Mark Heise, the president and CEO of Rebellion Brewing in Regina, told Global News Wednesday that the upcoming mask mandate is a relief.
“We decided to implement a mask policy at Rebellion about 12 weeks ago. We really felt it was the right decision at the right time,” he said.
“As much as we like to be outspoken and ahead of the curve, you take some knocks on the chin as well.”
Heise said the local business received support and pushback on its policy, adding that taproom sales have declined five per cent during that time.
He noted that after seeing video of patrons in other establishments over Halloween weekend, it’s clear some people aren’t following the current guidelines.
“You could say it’s long overdue, but I understand government works at a different pace so we’re just really happy and relieved,” he said.
Around the same time Rebellion instituted its masking policy, other local businesses and big chain stores began introducing their own.
On Aug. 13, Regina’s mayor and city councillors also issued a public plea for people to mask indoors.
When the provincial mandate takes effect Friday, masks will only be required in restaurants and bars when patrons are not at table.
Still, some business owners are concerned customers will be deterred enough to impact their economic recovery.
Mia Danakas-Wienkauf is an owner and manager of both Mr. D’s Stats Cocktails and Dreams and Cravings in Regina.
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She said that since re-opening during the COVID-19 pandemic, her establishments have not asked customers to mask.
Instead, she said, tables have been separated according to Saskatchewan Health Authority guidelines, with staff wearing masks when physical distancing isn’t possible.
“We’re going to have lots of customers up in arms,” Danakas-Wienkauf said Wednesday.
Danakas-Wienkauf said she’s also concerned that changing policies, and forcing mask use, will further affect the mental health of her patrons.
She told Global News that 19 of her regular customers have taken their own lives since the start of the pandemic.
“People are scared, and you could see that they were scared when they were sitting in my bar yesterday on their phones saying, ‘did you see this? Did you see this? They’re mandating masks now’,” she said.
“(COVID-19) is a big problem, and I’m not saying that it isn’t, but at some point in our lives we are going to have to move on and live a normal life. Yes with precautions, yes with sanitizing and maybe social distancing.”
Danakas-Wienkauf has previously voiced her disagreement with masking policies on social media, however, she said her businesses will abide by the government’s temporary public order.
John Hopkins, the Regina & District Chamber of Commerce CEO, said the masking measures at least ensure businesses remain open.
“The most important thing is the safety of the people of this province. And if we can do it without shutting down the economy, that’s what we would like to see,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins added that businesses needing support to pay for personal protective equipment, such as masks, can apply for a City of Regina grant.