BONNYVILLE – Local businesses and facilities are getting ready to open their doors after the province officially announced its relaunch strategy.
“I think right now is the right time to start looking at ways to safely reopen our economy and get our businesses back to work as safely and as quickly as possible,” said Serina Parsons, executive director of the Bonnyville and District Chamber of Commerce.
The provincial government released its relaunch strategy on April 30. The strategy will see life slowly start to move back to normal in three stages.
Before the first phase begins, which will see restrictions lifted to allow businesses and restaurants to open as early as May 14, early actions included Alberta Health Services resuming some scheduled, non-urgent surgeries as early as of May 4, provincial parks being opened to public access at the beginning of May, along with access to boat launches opening up in select parks across Alberta.
Golf courses were also allowed to open on May 2, but the Bonnyville Golf and Country Club decided to hold off until May 8 as they hadn't been anticipating being able to open until later in the month.
“We weren’t even ready with all of the rules that were in place,” noted president Maurice Mercier. “So we actually held off until (May 8) because we knew that at that point we could be comfortably ready because it's important that you follow these rules because, I think, it’s a privilege for our course to be allowed to open.”
Among the rules the local facility has to follow are keeping the pro shop closed, requiring golfers to book their tee time in advance, removing all of the touch-points, such as the flags at holes, and only allowing people from the same household to share a cart.
The MD of Bonnyville also decided to open its parks a little later than normal.
According to Caroline Palmer, general manager of planning and community services for the MD, the municipality put off the typical May 8 opening to wait for some clarity from the province. The opening day this year is May 14 “with a prepared COVID-19 plan that we have in place,” Palmer stated.
That includes the closure of bathrooms, playgrounds, and areas that might encourage gatherings, along with no tenting at campgrounds, but the boat launches will be open.
“We’ve all been restricted and feel very restricted in being able to do things, and sometimes just getting a different perspective from our homes to our RVs and being in nature can definitely be, in my opinion, uplifting for me and kids as well,” Palmer expressed, adding campers will play a crucial role in making sure the parks are able to remain open this summer.
“We’re hoping people will help us out in being able to create this availability and that it's appreciated and respected, because it’s trying times for us all.”
Following the early actions, the province has tentatively set May 14 as when the first stage of the phased launch will begin. The two-metre distancing rule will still be in place, non-essential travel isn’t recommended, and remote working is still advised if possible.
Retail businesses, such as clothing, furniture, and bookstores, museums and art galleries, and daycares and summer camps with limited occupancy, are among the list of facilities that will be given the green light to open their doors again.
Jennie Hamel, owner of Jennie’s Diner and Bakery, is looking forward to being able to have customers in her restaurant, even if she will be limited to 50 per cent capacity during the first phase.
“It’s going to get workers back into the flow that haven’t been working, and I think it will also give people an ease of mind to come out and still have that social distancing where they’re not going to panic if somebody steps too close,” she said. “I think people will be a little bit more accepting to come out to a restaurant and sit with that distancing.”
Parsons has heard some fears from consumers and employers regarding what the relaunch is going to look like locally.
“The Alberta government does have a lot of information on their website for relaunch strategies, and there are many different questions and resources that we have available to be able to assist businesses with right now.”
When exactly the next two phases will happen will be determined on health indicators and whether or not it's advisable to continue.
During the second stage, libraries, some large gatherings, and personal services, such as artificial tanning, esthetics, cosmetic skin and body treatments, among others, will be allowed to offer their services in-person.
It’s the final stage that will see the full reopening of all businesses and services, including nightclubs, gyms, recreation centres, and arenas with protection controls in place.
A petition was started by Wheel Fit Co. owner and founder Danika Desaulniers asking that her business “not to be lumped in with the big gyms and rec centres because we do have so much more control over the environment.”
“We don’t offer the (access) to weights and equipment,” she noted. “Our studios are designed to be a pre-registered class. I know my studio is pretty self-run anyways just because our operations are where people walk in, they check themselves in on the iPad, they then go to the bike, they do their thing, and they leave.”
Desaulniers has been in talks with the Cold Lake health inspector and Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul MLA David Hanson to see if she could start offering classes in stage two of the relaunch instead.
“I have the flexibility to pull out bikes and have the accommodation of the six-foot rule between each participant and have it really be a sanitized experience between classes and during to maintain the social distancing standard.”
The financial aspect, along with the mental and physical health of her customers, are among the reasons Desaulniers is hoping to open sooner rather than later.
“People have been cooped up in their homes for the last two months and no social interactions, or very limited. I really believe that mental health is suffering for this and I really believe that in order to lessen the burden on the healthcare system and the mental health resources coming out of this, it would be imperative to start offering outlets that are promoting moving your body, getting out of your house, going and connecting with humans in this manner because we’re social creatures.”
While there are a number of unknowns surrounding Alberta’s relaunch stages, Parsons is cautiously optimistic as everybody prepares to open their doors.
“My hope is that we’re able to do everything that we can, the resources and supports that have been put into place do help our businesses and that we don’t see the amount of closures and negative impacts that we had possibly foreseen. Now’s the time, and hopefully with this we’re able to save some businesses by getting some of those doors back open.”