Customers at Hintonburg’s Maker House will not only be greeted by cheery Christmas music as they walk through the front doors in the coming weeks, but the familiar sight of a box of masks.
While the top doctors in Ontario and Canada have recommended people wear masks once again, that isn’t why store owner Gareth Davies is once again asking customers to cover up while browsing.
“We’re responding to the call from the hospitals, especially CHEO, the children’s hospital, which is over capacity,” he said on Wednesday.
“It’s a no-brainer for us as a business to do what we can.”
CHEO President and CEO Alex Munter has said a surge in respiratory illnesses, shortages of kids’ medications, COVID-19, and the early start of the cold and flu season have left pediatric hospitals straining to meet demand. He urged the community to respond by masking up.
Similarly, calls for a return of masking in schools have been growing, with an upcoming motion to bring masks back to schools within the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board.
‘We just need to take it upon ourselves’
Some businesses feel they’re in a predicament: implement a mask policy and deal with pushback, or ignore impassioned calls from those saying a return to masks is overdue.
Davies wishes the province or local health authority would require masks inside, but he thinks that burden has been shifted to individuals.
“We realize that we just need to take it upon ourselves to have that requirement here,” he said.
In an emailed statement Thursday afternoon, the city’s medical officer of health told CBC News Ottawa Public Health (OPH) supports any business implementing such a policy.
“While the province is in the best position to implement a mask mandate, given the provincewide challenge and benefits of a consistent approach, OPH will continue to monitor the situation in Ottawa and assess all possible local options,” Dr. Vera Etches said.
Davies has required shoppers to wear masks since Monday, with his employees already wearing them prior to the decision. So far, customers are receptive to the ask, he said.
Still, Davies understands the struggles of other businesses that may consider their own mask requirements — worried about isolating some customers, heated confrontations at their front doors, or just a general hesitation to return to something many hoped we were beyond.
“It opens you to some pushback, but you’re doing it for the right reasons,” he said. “So we expect probably a few more businesses to institute a requirement.”
Masking also a business decision
Some stores, like the bakery Little Jo Berry’s, have kept masking requirements throughout the pandemic, in part, as a business decision.
“It doesn’t make sense to have to close every time someone’s sick,” said owner Jo Masterson, who uses they and them as pronouns.
They say their customers, especially those who are immunocompromised, are largely grateful for the policy. Still, no business wants to have to go through this again.
“Although I’m relieved to see people masking more, I’m also very saddened by, as an entrepreneur, what I’ve had to go through, what my neighbours have had to go through,” they said.
“You [go] by restaurants, they’re empty on the inside. You know, that hurts.”
One business CBC News contacted declined to identify themselves for an interview about their mask policy, worried the attention would make their store a target.
Davies said it’s unfortunate masks have become politicized, but he believes this is a short-term measure until the wave of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and other illnesses subsides.
Until then, he’s ready to shoulder whatever consequences come.
“Not everybody may want to come to your business, and that’s OK.”