Vaccination status, masks: What can businesses ask of patrons after COVID-19 restrictions lift?

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Vaccination status, masks – what can businesses ask of patrons after restrictions lift? – Jul 26, 2021

Having opened in the middle of COVID-19, Obscurity in Saint John hasn’t seen a business day without strict public health protocols in place.

That’s set to change this weekend, with New Brunswick slated to lift all pandemic restrictions at 11:59 Friday night.

“It’s going to be interesting seeing our customers’ faces,” says Pamela Wheaton, co-owner of the “quirky” shop.

“I feel like I’m not going to recognize anyone.”

Read more: 1 new case of COVID-19 in New Brunswick as province prepares to lift restrictions

Wheaton and her business partner Mishelle Carson-Roy made the call to no longer require masks in the shop when the mandatory order ends – a decision chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell says will be up to each individual business owner.

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For Wheaton, it was an easy call. She feels comfortable taking her mask off and wants patrons to have that same choice.

“Obviously, if people want to wear masks, that’s great,” she says.

“If not, that’s great.”

Along with smiling faces, Wheaton looks forward to allowing more customers in at a time without COVID-19 capacity limits.

“I’d like to say we’ll see more people out and about, but I also wonder if will make some people nervous and less likely to come out because the restrictions are lifted,” Wheaton says.

Obscurity, a self-proclaimed ‘quirky’ shop in Saint John, doesn’t plan to ask patrons to mask up beyond the end of New Brunswick’s mandatory order. Travis Fortnum / Global News

WorkSafe NB, the province’s authority on workplace health and safety, put out a release with last week’s announcement encouraging businesses to “maintain some measures” beyond the end of provincial ones on Friday.

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Russell and Premier Blaine Higgs didn’t seem certain of whether or not businesses could opt to keep guidelines in place strictly for unvaccinated customers.

One privacy expert tells Global News: they can.

“The short answer is yes,” says Meghan McCluskey, associate general counsel with Toronto-based TrustArc.

“Businesses can ask about vaccination status if it has a reasonable purpose for obtaining the information, such as protecting patrons and staff from infection – and, if the customer consents to providing their vaccination status,” McCluskey says.

What businesses can’t do, McCluskey says, is outright deny service to unvaccinated shoppers or those who decline to answer.

“You cannot kick them out,” she says.

“Without a legal requirement to require vaccination status, you can’t require it.”

The business can only ask those patrons to wear a mask, maintain social distance from other patrons or staff or opt for curbside pickup or delivery.

Read more: Are fake vaccine cards being used to enter Canada?

At Obscurity, Wheaton doesn’t forsee staff having to confront that situation, as she doesn’t plan to ask patrons for their vaccination status.

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“That feels intrusive,” she says.

Meanwhile, she is excited to take her mask off when restrictions lift provincewide Friday night.

“I’d very much like to not wear them anymore,” says Wheaton.

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