Anxiety in Saskatchewan’s retail, service industry workers rising with coronavirus cases

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Anxiety in Saskatchewan’s retail, service industry workers rising with coronavirus cases
WATCH: With coronavirus cases rising, so is anxiety in some of the people who still have to work at their retail or service industry jobs. – Nov 17, 2020

Since the Turning the Tide Bookstore welcomed customers back through its doors in line with Saskatchewan’s coronavirus reopening plan, Bruce Rushinko has been there, doing his best to serve them.

“It’s just been different levels of uncertainty. Different levels of stress. You’re basically monitoring other people that come in,” said Rushinko, whose retail job has been morphing into one of an enforcement officer.

“Tensions are rising around public, around workers in retail, basically. How do we keep ourselves safe? How do we keep our customers safe?”

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While he hasn’t second-guessed asking people to mask up and use hand sanitizer, he’s grateful that as of Tuesday, his employer opted to go back to taking orders for curbside pickup and delivery, as the bookstore did in the spring.

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He’s happy to still have work processing requests and preparing packages, but as a diabetic, has become concerned for his health and the health of those around him as coronavirus cases rise.

As of Monday in Saskatoon, where the bookstore is based, provincial data indicates at least one in every 569 people in the city is infected. In Regina, one in every 808 people is infected.

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The province has mandated masks in communities with populations greater than 5,000, a curfew on alcohol sales applicable to bars, restaurants and private gatherings as well as caps on group fitness classes. The premier has said more rules to limit the spread could be coming under a public health order.

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More support for owner-operators, employees

Jim Bence, president of the Saskatchewan Hotel and Hospitality Association, says that wide-ranging support is needed right now for business owner-operators and the employees who work for them.

From clarity and follow through from the province when it comes to enforcing masking and distancing rules and recommendations in restaurants and bars to more guidance on how and funding to help restaurants transition to focusing on take-out, Bence said there is a lot of pressure on the service industry.

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“We’re in this for the long haul,” Bence said. “It’s going to be who adapts will survive.”

While he said the guidelines are there to allow owner-operators and employees to control their environments safely, he’s been hearing anecdotally from the community he represents and some of the stories about how employees dealing directly with the public have been treated are egregious.

“What happens to those folks that so obviously thumb their nose at the rules, the guidelines, to keep us all safe?” Bence said.

“It’s a tough business, it really is. I think during these times, I think people, customers, really need to be patient and respectful.”

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Adding to the stress for most owner-operators and their staff is the fact that they don’t know where the people coming into their establishments have been and with whom they’ve interacted, Bence said.

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“People, they’re at work, they want to work safely, but they also don’t want to put themselves in harms way by having a customer come in who might unnecessarily expose them,” he said.

“Is the anxiety level going up? For sure.”

While there was a sigh of relief across the industry late last week upon learning a total shutdown had been avoided, employers want to feel safe, have their employees feel safe and have their customers feel safe, Bence said.

Urging empathy

Rod Kirkpatrick’s wife works in a restaurant.

“She’s doing everything she can to be safe,” he said, noting she’s told him time and time again that not all customers are doing the same.

He said the rise in coronavirus cases is making him nervous.

“These people are taking the time to go get jobs and help you put food on the table or get you a meal for the day, for the night, for lunch, whatever it is,” he said. “They’re putting their lives on the line.

“We’ve got to respect that.”

Kamal Rana, who was out shopping in Harbour Landing Monday wearing a face shield, said he, too, is anxious about the rising coronavirus caseload.

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He said everyone has a role to play.

“What we have to do, we have to do all of us, with taking precautions,” Rana said.

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