Edmonton gyms, theatres, restaurants among businesses mandating proof of COVID-19 vaccine
Businesses take the initiative as the Alberta government avoids vaccine passport
More businesses and organizations in Edmonton are requiring patrons and staff to prove that they're fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as the Alberta government refuses to put in a province-wide mandate.
Gyms, restaurants, theatres, and clubs are among the businesses introducing vaccine passports.
YEG Cycle spin studio on Whyte Avenue will require proof of vaccination starting Sept. 15.
Co-owner Andrew Obrecht said he didn't think he'd be in the position to have to mandate this himself. But when COVID-19 cases started to rise again and with almost no provincial restrictions in place, he knew it was inevitable.
"We were looking at the writing on the wall," Obrecht said in an interview last week.
"We heard a lot of comments from our riders that they were feeling more and more unsafe for the fact that they weren't certain that the people around them were fully vaccinated."
The studio doesn't want to revert to operating at only 20 per cent capacity with barriers between bikes if cases continue to rise, Obrecht said in an interview last week.
Clients will be asked to show proof of vaccination with either a paper copy, a digital MyHealth Alberta record or an official immunization record from another province.
"Of course, it would be nice if this was implemented on the government level," Obrecht said. "So there was some consistency, but a lot of businesses have had to take it on their own shoulders."
Clients — most of whom are regular customers — only have to show proof of vaccination once, which will get recorded, he noted.
Dan Smith, executive director of the Metro Cinema in Old Strathcona's Garneau Theatre, said they're also launching the initiative Sept. 20.
"To us the value is crystal clear, I think it's important for the community that we do it," Smith said. "I do expect that other venues — businesses, restaurants, retail spaces, what have you — will probably see the real, tangible benefit of doing it in terms of increased safety."
Metro Cinema will also accept a recent negative COVID-19 test, he said.
Smith is looking at the long-term possibilities as the pandemic continues.
"People are not going to want capacity restrictions forever and masks forever, and this is a way to do that in as safe a way as possible."
As the City of Edmonton and the province reintroduced the mask mandate inside, moviegoers are required to wear masks in all areas of the theatre building until they're seated.
The cinema also maintains social distancing seating, with groups required to be two metres away from each other.
Last week, Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro repeated the government's position that they are leaving the decision up to individual businesses and organizations for now.
"If there's evidence as we see the vaccine passports as they are enabled in other provinces, I'm happy to look at that information," Shandro told reporters at a government announcement in Rocky Mountain House.
"At this time we have made the decision for these decisions to be led by those workplaces and by those businesses," Shandro said.
The news that YEG Cycle will ask for proof of vaccination has drawn back some customers who were reluctant to re-engage at the gym, Obrecht said.
It's also drawn anger, mainly over social media, but also from callers making threats.
"It's something that we've had to equip our team to be prepared for something that we never thought that we would have to do in this business."
The Citadel Theatre downtown is also introducing a vaccine passport protocol starting this week.
The Edmonton Chamber of Commerce is advocating for a government-led certification program.
The chamber sent out a news release Monday, quoting a recent survey by Leger showing that province-wide, 70 per cent of businesses and 74 per cent of citizens support vaccine certification.
Monday, post-secondary institutions including the University of Alberta, NAIT, and MacEwan University announced they too, will adopt the mandate.