Ski Base is one of the retail shops allowing foot traffic to enter the store. Soranne Floarea/The Free Press

Elk Valley businesses reopen after months of closures

Opening with restrictions, local services keep health and safety a priority

As British Columbia moves into the second phase of the restart plan, a number of services and businesses throughout the Elk Valley are slowly beginning to open their doors. Pubs, restaurants, hair and nail salons, spas, various clinics, and other operations have all been given the go ahead to open their doors.

According to Brad Parsell, executive director of the Fernie Chamber of Commerce, WorkSafeBC collects and distributes all information regarding regulations. While businesses must focus on responsible returns to business, most WorkSafeBC recommendations are suggestions rather than laws with punitive consequences. It therefore remains in the hands of businesses to decide whether or not they open, and how to go about it.

“Businesses are on top of it, they are taking it seriously and they are following direction from the province and WorkSafeBC. But people do need to keep in mind that each business is going to have a slightly different approach within the guidelines, and that’s okay. As long as they are keeping their staff and customers safe, that is the number one thing,” said Parsell.

Although many recommendations are industry specific, WorkSafeBC’s website states that all employers must create COVID-19 safety plans outlining new standards. The plans must follow six definite steps, including assessing risk, implementing measures and policies to reduce that risk, developing communication plans and training, and monitoring the situation.

On May 15, the office of the provincial health officer disseminated an order stating that locations serving meals and drinks must remain under 50 per cent capacity. Tables can no longer exceed six patrons, and two metres must remain between tables at all times. When possible, employers are to retain contact information of at least one member of each party for 30 days, should there be a need for contact tracing. Other recommendations given to pubs, restaurants and cafes include the removal of self serve stations, pre-pouring water, removing one chair per table to allow for the server to further distance themselves, eliminating high touch table top items, sanitizing regularly, and using digital menu boards when possible.

One dining establishment that recently resumed operations given those recommendations is The Fernie Hotel and Pub, which opened on May 22. Offering a limited menu of dine in options and reduced hours, The Fernie lowered their capacity and spaced all tables apart to allow for distancing. Staff must sanitize all surfaces touched by clients every half hour, as well as request that customers enter and exit the establishment through different doors.

While retail shops were never mandated to fully close, WorkSafeBC suggests implementing a variety of protocols to ensure the health and safety of customers and employees. Occupancy limits and changes to store layout are recommended to allow for distancing, as is the restocking of shelves prior to operating hours. WorkSafeBC also suggests modifying customer interaction, minimizing physical contact, and implementing regulations surrounding fitting rooms.

Many local retail shops are currently accepting walk in traffic but maintaining restrictions on capacity in an effort to encourage social distancing.

On May 19, the provincial health officer also cancelled the order to close personal service establishments. Upon opening, such locations must follow guidance outlined by WorkSafeBC, including the elimination of large bookings, establishing procedures around clients entering the premise, and using personal protective equipment when distancing is not possible. Reducing the sharing of tools and equipment, using single use items when feasible, establishing proper hygiene practices, and enhancing disinfecting and cleaning procedures is also suggested.

To abide by these new protocols, many local spas and salons have decreased their bookings and implemented scrupulous sanitation and distancing practices. For instance, following guidelines set forth by the College of Massage Therapists of BC, Spa 901 limited many of their services. Through the pandemic, they no longer offer couples massages, group bookings, facials, eyelash tinting, body exfoliation, makeup application, or lower face waxing.

Physical barriers should be used at counters, proper signage implemented, and hygienic practices taken seriously. Specific to museums and art galleries, WorkSafeBC’s website states that such businesses are to restrict events and visits to 50 people or less, while ensuring adequate spacing between patrons at all times. In addition, WorkSafeBC urges museums and galleries to consider switching to self guided tours, no contact displays, and allowing for increased circulation of outdoor air.

WorkSafeBC suggests libraries also implement occupancy limits, encourage the use of digital services, and ensure interior areas allow for social distancing at all times. They also recommend providing physical barriers at desks, providing hand sanitizer, and implementing one way aisles, among other suggestions.

Healthcare professionals will see an increased focus on disinfection, hygiene and physical distancing. In person meetings will be limited and interior spaces reorganized.

For more information on WorkSafeBC’s general recommendations to business owners, head to

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