A sudden announcement by British Columbia health officials on Wednesday wasn’t all that surprising to some local businesses in Kelowna.
During the lunch hour, the province reintroduced an indoor mask mandate for the Central Okanagan. The mandate follows scores of recent positive COVID-19 tests.
According to health officials, there have been 240 cases in the region during the past week, with around 50 per cent linked to social gatherings, workplaces and home settings.
“It seems we’ve taken two steps forward and one step back,” said Mark Burley, executive director for the Downtown Kelowna Business Association.
“We’re back to the restrictions that we had towards the end of June.”
Jared Lee, co-owner of Central Kitchen and Bar in downtown Kelowna, said he had mixed feelings after hearing the news.
Central has temporarily closed its doors after some staff members tested positive recently.
“I am very supportive of enhanced restrictions to curb the spread of what’s going on,” Lee told Global News.
“I do think it’s, unfortunately, too little, too late in my personal opinion. The general opening of the province on Canada Day was a little premature. And, as a result, I think you are seeing the consequences of that decision right now.”
Lee said he supports the idea and “that people need to stay vigilant and do what they can to protect themselves and the people around them.”
Still, Lee called the spike in cases, and resulting targeted restrictions, a blow to morale and tourism.
“We’ve been dealing with this now for well over a year,” said Lee. “With the smoke and the heat, it’s not a great look for our town and our beautiful region.
“The smoke and heat are out of our control, but curbing the spread and mitigating the risk of spreading COVID-19 is something we are very much in control of and should be our No. 1 priority moving forward.”
In West Kelowna, Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery also voluntarily closed its doors, July 26-29, because a staff member tested positive for COVID-19.
The winery’s general manager, Jesse Harnden, said, “It’s unfortunate, but I really don’t see an alternative. And I think we gotta do what we gotta do to get through this, and hopefully get back to normal.
“I think the switch was turned off a little too quick and everything went back to normal pretty fast. Obviously, with hindsight, that seems pretty clear.
Harnden noted this is the winery’s third closure, adding they are encouraging staff to get vaccinated.
“July and August is when you make almost half your revenue, so every day that you lose is absolutely painful,” he said. “We are going to take a huge hit just for being closed for 4-5 days.”
Dan Rogers, the executive director for the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce, said it wasn’t surprising, “given the rise of cases in the area.”
He said, “I think we are generally supportive of the mask mandate being reinstated. We were hearing from our members that were concerned about managing conflict in their workplace, when you had customers that weren’t following what was being recommended with respect to masks.”
Rogers continued, saying, “It’s clear now, it’s a requirement. So that has the potential to reduce the conflict. And in the longer term, it’ll help us get back on track in reducing the number of cases that we’re seeing in the region.”
Rogers noted that the wildfire smoke that’s blanketing the region has been affecting tourism as much as the pandemic.
“But we’re seeing our businesses being resilient; we can get back on track if we follow the mandate that’s now being put in place,” he said.
“And it’s a good reminder (for businesses) that they have to be diligent in having plans to keep their employees safe and get us back on track towards the light at the end of the tunnel.”View link »