Mandatory masks: so far, so good for local businesses

By Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    
August 5 2020

GUYSBOROUGH – Local businesses are reporting a fairly smooth transition during the first few days of mandatory wearing of masks in public places. 

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nova Scotia mid-March, the general public was told the best way to fight the contagion was to ‘Stay the blazes home.’ Coming into our sixth month of living with the pandemic, the province is opening up, encouraging people to get out to support local businesses and prop up the tourism economy; all while following Public Health guidelines to reduce the likelihood of an outbreak. As part of the new rules, on July 24 the province announced that non-medical masks would now be mandatory in most indoor public places starting July 31. 

With only one week to prepare for this new Public Health requirement, local businesses did their best to educate customers on the soon-to-be mandatory use of non-medical masks on their premises. Many businesses posted notices on their social media accounts and their properties leading up to the implementation date. After the first weekend of mandatory mask use, The Journal spoke with businesses in the Guysborough area to find out what the public response was to the new measure.

Hart’s of Boylston General Store told The Journal in an online interview that they were “pleasantly surprised at how well our community and customers adjusted to the implementation of mandatory masks.

“For the most part everyone had their own mask, and for the handful that did not, we had disposable masks available for sale. As we are all working to develop this new habit, many would forget as they entered the store, but with a gentle reminder they quickly returned to their vehicle to grab their mask,” they said.

The mask mandate has been in effect for less than a week, but Hart’s said, “In the three days of implementation, we have only had one customer who stated they were exempt. Overall, people have been very understanding and accepting.”

In Half Island Cove, Dave Hanhams of Hanhams Gas & Convenience said, “I didn’t have any issues at all – starting right from day one. I think there were a few people that forgot their masks, or weren’t familiar with it, because it was day one. We had some disposable masks that we gave them for free and they had no issues wearing them. No issues at all.”

Speaking to the decision to implement the measure, Hanhams said, “I thought it was very important to get the economy going again, and if this is one of the things that can help start opening up some doors to get the economy going again, it’s really not that big of a sacrifice…We can’t be at a standstill forever. We have to move forward.”

To date, although the province is now part of an Atlantic Bubble, Hanhams said most customers he sees are local residents. “Seems to be people in their bubble hanging out together and going to the beaches. They can’t go too far. I think the locals are staying close to home this year. A local is in and out of the store every couple of days…I think that is positive for small businesses; shopping local.”

Fraser Cook, proprietor of Cook's Gas Bar & Robins Donuts in Guysborough, told The Journal Monday that the implementation of mandatory masks has gone well at his establishment. “So far so good; a few customers come to the door and realize they have forgotten them in their cars. There’s been a few come in who haven’t worn them. I have talked to my staff about that. We are not, at this point, turning them away. We’ll make a casual comment to them to make them aware of it; they may have forgotten it or what have you. We’re not necessarily the agency that enforces it. We are doing our best to deal with it.”

When it comes to the enforcement piece, Cook said, “We put up signs a week ahead of time, to inform our customers. I told my staff, ‘You’re not hired to be security therefore I don’t want you to attempt to be such an entity.’ I know stores are vulnerable to fines as are individuals; I guess we cross those bridges when we get to them. I don’t feel it is the retail sector’s job to enforce the wearing of masks. And as a retail owner, I don’t want to restrict a customer who may have forgotten a mask,” he said, noting that they do have masks for sale in the store and customers also have the option of the drive-through at his store.

Before masks became mandatory, Cook said many customers were already using masks when entering the store. “We were glad to see that because we really didn’t know what to expect on Friday (July 31); how would that be received. Personally, I was hearing mixed comments in the community, but have not myself, nor any of my staff that I am aware of, had any backlash from a customer in regard to it. People are understanding that it is not the retail sector that put this in place, whether you’re for or against it; we are just dealing with it as they are.

“We even had some customers comment that, ‘I’m glad I only have to wear it walking into your store. I see you folks are wearing it for your full eight-hour shift.’ It’s nice to see that they appreciate the fact that they (staff) are wearing it for the entire day,” said Cook, adding that it can be challenging for workers to wear masks all day.

Cook anticipates that there won’t be any enforcement for the first few weeks as people transition to the mask mandate. “Like most things, I think the people that enforce the laws are a little understanding initially; the transition to follow it. Something like this is a little different too. People who have health issues, it’s my understanding, may make them exempt from wearing them, which is fine.”

Overall, feedback suggests that most people are complying with the non-surgical mask mandate. And as Cook’s customers have commented, wearing a mask as a customer is far less taxing than wearing it as a worker. The sacrifice, if it is one, is more heavily weighted on staff than on the public. But as Hanhams’ pointed out, to get the economy restarted and save jobs, it’s a sacrifice people must be willing to make.