Masking in St. Mary's

By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    
July 29 2020

To mask or not to mask is no longer the question across Nova Scotia. But the provincial government’s decision to require people to cover their noses and mouths in most indoor public places, starting July 31, isn’t causing much concern among St. Mary’s shop owners and restaurateurs. Not yet.

“It’s not that much different from the way we’re doing things now,” says Max MacDonald, proprietor of Beanie’s Bistro in Sherbrooke. “People look at the signs and automatically put on a mask. They know the routine: When you get to your table, you can take it off. You put it on again when you go to the bathroom or if you are leaving. And on a patio, you don’t have to wear a mask at all.”

Helen Pye, owner of Ecum Secum Gift Shop and Treasures, is equally sanguine. “I don’t have my shop open yet, but I don’t think it’s going to be a problem for me,” she says. “I have no problem wearing a mask myself. My shop is actually quite big and I have two doors, one where you walk in and one where you walk out at the other end. If my place was bigger, then maybe there’d be an issue. It’s a mindset anyway. I’m actually quite flexible. If these are the rules then I go with it.”

In fact, Paul MacLellan, proprietor of Country Harbour General Store, says he almost never sees people wearing masks in his area. “It’s very rare,” notes the freshly minted proprietor who just opened his new operation on the very spot where a community store had thrived for 70 years. “But I understand that it’s a precaution.”

The new guidelines are, indeed, extensive. They cover retail businesses, shopping centres, personal services businesses, restaurants and bars, places of worship, cultural and entertainment venues, sports and recreation facilities, conference and meeting halls, train and bus stations, ferry terminals, and airports. Meanwhile, children under two are exempt as are people with valid medical reasons. Schools, daycares and day camps will follow specific reopening plans.

If MacLellan has any concern at all, it’s wondering how he’s expected to enforce the regulations among people who don’t currently wear a mask and may not intend to start. “We are in a spot where no one we know has had COVID or anything like it. I’m a bit worried about losing some business.”

Even amidst his own generally compliant crowd of patrons, MacDonald says, “It’s going to take time for some people to be comfortable. I always wear a mask when I go into a store, and I keep masks in my car. But I find that maybe 10 per cent of the people in Antigonish or in our own grocery store here in Sherbrooke are wearing them. So, yes, it’s going to be an adjustment for some. But our customers are just happy that we are here and that we’re open.”