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Businesses adjust to Stage 2 of Alberta relaunch

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Stage 2 of Alberta’s economic relaunch strategy and some steps that were scheduled to wait until the third stage came earlier than expected for many local businesses.

“We had a lot of calls from businesses during the closure, at phase 1, and again now for phase 2. They had many questions and we either answered over the phone and also went there to assist with adhering to the restrictions,” stated Jean Snow, protective services coordinator.

Back at the start of the closure, Hinton’s protective services contacted all businesses to find out who was open and if any needed assistance with the restrictions.  

A Community Peace Officer went to each open business to review the restrictions and deliver provincial restriction information, as well as the State of Local Emergency (SOLE) when it was declared.

When restaurants reopened, protective services staff revisited the locations and assisted with occupancy, table set up, cleaning, etc, Snow added.

“They were all very appreciative of this. Not all restaurants reopened completely and some are now going into the next phase,” she said.

Restaurants have started to call for help with the restrictions in the second stage and protective services will continue to help any businesses with adhering to the restrictions.

Public Health Inspectors continue to respond to complaints and service requests related to COVID-19 received from the public through the online portal, stated Kerry Williamson, communications for Alberta Health Services (AHS).

Since January, AHS conducted 175 inspections in Hinton, according to Williamson.

“As businesses reopen, inspectors are now moving back to normal operations by conducting monitoring inspections, which means a Public Health Inspector may show up at a business unannounced to conduct an inspection,” Williamson said.

Inspectors primarily use education to help ensure that operators handle foods safely, and enforcement is the exception.

Enforcement activities are conducted specifically in cases with facilities who are not complying with the orders by the chief medical officer of health.

On May 14, Stage 1 of the provincial relaunch strategy allowed some businesses like local cafes and restaurants to reopen.

Since stocking up on personal protective equipment and setting up their spaces for physical distancing, restrictions for these businesses have now changed again in the second stage.

The Old Grind opened later in May and only allowed customers in at half-capacity, as according to the restrictions of Stage 1.

Now in Stage 2, staff will no longer have to do head counts since capacity restrictions were lifted on June 12. 

Melanie Widenmaier, owner of The Old Grind cafe, said that physical distancing of two metres between tables is still mandatory, which doesn’t allow a lot of room to add patrons.

“I’m not sure how it will work for larger spaces but we will still be restricted at The Old Grind because of the size of our space. We might be able to add a few more seats but that’s about it,” Widenmaier said.

“I do however hope that this change in restrictions will inspire confidence in the public.”

Mr. Mikes in Hinton decided to delay their reopening until June 15, despite being allowed to open in mid-May. The restaurant began with take-out at the start of June.

Jessica Halvorson, general manager at Mr. Mikes, said bar top seating will be closed until further notice, but that patio will accommodate physical distancing nicely. 

“We don’t have a lot of concerns at this point, we are a little frustrated with the limited seating but we can technically open for 100 per cent occupancy,” Halvorson said.

Mr. Mikes has gone from about 270 seats down to approximately 140 with two metre physical distancing in place. 

“We will be relying heavily on community support once our doors do open with the travel restrictions still in place,” Halvorson added.

Stage 2 included the reopening of theatres, thus the Performing Arts Theatre of Hinton (PATH) was given the green light for operations.

Wendy Laurila, facility coordinator of the PATH, said that prior to the closure, the PATH had a fantastic assortment of entertainment lined up for the month of June and summer months. Unfortunately, these groups had made the tough decision to cancel as a precaution.

“We are extremely eager and as much as we would love to have our theatre filled with the sounds of wonderful entertainment, we will not be opening doors to the public at this time,” Laurila said.

Staff at the PATH are preparing to open, but The Home for Fine Arts Society of Hinton and The PATH staff want to ensure all safety measures are in place.

The current restriction of a maximum of 50 people indoors is not feasible for user groups of the PATH, because a live production can already have over 20 people working behind the scenes.

Aside from performers, stagehands, technicians, ushers, volunteer concession crew and staff, an audience would be very limited.

“There would also be the issue of maintaining social distancing on stage,” said Laurila.

Similarly, Hinton Movies doesn’t have access to movie premieres as the industry waits for assurance that movie-goers will return to theatres.

Laurila added that regular user groups of the PATH are starting to book for the new season and are bringing a great selection of entertainment.