As some British Columbia businesses prepare to reopen their doors on Tuesday when the province enters the second phase of its COVID-19 restart plan, others say they’re holding off while they grapple with new health protocols.
Claire Wyrostok owns the Black Lodge, a pub featuring vegetarian and vegan fare in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, which won’t be reopening for dine-in service right away.
“I definitely can’t ask my staff to work when I can’t guarantee them a safe environment,” she said. “And I can’t do that without the recommendations of WorkSafeBC.”
Industry-specific public health protocols were released by the province on Friday and aim to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus while ramping up economic activity.
But Wyrostok said there’s not enough time to implement all of WorkSafe BC’s protocols by Tuesday.
The protocols for restaurants range from using large menu boards or disposable menus instead of traditional ones, to installing decals on the floor to control the flow of customers, to minimizing the use of shared kitchen equipment and appliances.
“Something as simple as picking up a plate and putting it in the dishwasher and then taking a clean dish out at the same time — you can’t do that anymore,” said Wyrostok, who’s also concerned the guidelines leave room for interpretation.
In order to reopen, all businesses must also have a COVID-19 safety plan in place, for which WorkSafeBC is providing a template.
The head of prevention services for the agency, Al Johnson, has said about 300 prevention officers will oversee enforcement.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said she understands there will be anxiety as B.C. businesses open their doors for potentially the first time in several months.
“I would say ‘take it slow,’” she said Monday. “I know people are a little bit afraid.”
Kin Kao, a 32-seat Thai restaurant along Vancouver’s Commercial Drive will also remain closed for dine-in service. Owner Terrence Feng said it’s too soon for them to reopen and Kin Kao will continue to rely on takeout and delivery orders for the time being.
“Opening up a small space where people have the opportunity to sit down and actually be closer and then flipping that table and another party coming in — that to me is just a recipe for disaster,” he said.
It would cost up to $10,000 for Kin Kao to hire staff and build up its inventory in order to reopen, Feng noted.
“Responsibility to the community and also to our staff and our customers outweighs the financial pressure that we’re under.”
Retail associations have previously said that reduced occupancy limits will cripple businesses, such as restaurants, if they’re a long-term requirement.
Henry says the limits are in place to help everyone.
“There’s not a lot of science,” she said of the formula behind determining a restaurant’s occupancy limit during the restart plan. “It’s based on trying to put together a rational approach to how many people would create enough of a crowd to put others at risk.”
Retailers, recreation facilities, libraries, museums and child care facilities, as well as personal service establishments such as hair salons and barbers are also allowed to reopen Tuesday.
Registered massage therapy, physiotherapy, dentistry, in-person counselling and similar health services may also reopen according to the industry-specific guidelines from WorkSafeBC.
CuR Laser and Skin in Vancouver is set to reopen this week, owner and medical director Dr. Kumar Shivdasani said.
Shivdasani, who also works at Vancouver General Hospital, said he realized early on in the outbreak that personal protective equipment might be in short supply. He leveraged his connections to procure masks, gloves, face shields and goggles.
Staff at the clinic will don all of that equipment while treating clients who will also be provided with masks and have their temperature checked with a touchless thermometer that’s due to arrive in about a week, said Shivdasani.
Other businesses and services must wait until the third phase of the province’s restart plan, set to start in June and last through September, provided the transmission rate of the virus remains low or in decline.
Phase three would include the reopening of hotels and resorts, as well as domestic film production starting in June or July followed by select entertainment such as movies and symphonies.
British Columbia reported two deaths and 16 new cases of COVID-19 since the province’s last update on Saturday.
Both of the deaths occurred in long-term care patients. According to Henry, 1,966 people have recovered from the illness.
Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press
Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.