Alert Level 3 is here. What does the reopening look like?
Public health measures relax after a weekend with no new COVID-19 cases
Newfoundland and Labrador has officially moved into Alert Level 3, and the first day of further relaxed public health measures is bringing with it a myriad of changes as many businesses reopen and more people return to work.
The changes arrived Monday, after the province marked a weekend with no new cases of COVID-19, extending the absence of a positive test to a 10-day streak.
Retailers and services that had been closed for weeks welcomed people back into their spaces, although health and safety procedures governing everything from getting a manicure to mall shopping mean increased sanitation is top of mind.
About 45 stores at the Avalon Mall in St. John's reopened, although some are delaying their starts slightly to fully adjust to the new measures in place, which include everything from capping customer numbers to a slew of stickers instructing shoppers on where to stand, queue and browse.
"I'm very excited.… It's been a long couple of months," said general manager Donna Vincent, who has been coming in to work regularly as a few stores offering essential services have remained operating throughout the pandemic.
Mall cleaning staff have completed extra sanitation training, and will be wearing masks as they focus efforts on major touch points like handrails throughout their shifts.
Vincent said the public aren't required to wear masks.
"[But] by all means, if that makes you feel comfortable, we would happily welcome customers wearing masks."
Paul Thomey, who owns That Pro Look, a sports memorabilia shop located on the first floor of the Avalon Mall, was among those forced to close their doors amid the pandemic.
Thomey told CBC News Monday he believes it will still take some time for customers to feel comfortable with shopping in person.
One good thing to come out of the pandemic, at least for his business, was that it forced him to move things online.
"We see some people today, which is great, but it's going to take some time. It's still a pretty deep hole, so we're starting well below zero when we start this comeback," he said.
"We're a local store, we're locally operated. So we know the direct impacts on us."
Some areas of the mall will remain closed, such as the movie theatre, which can only open at Alert Level 2. The food court is reopening, with some tables roped off, as restaurants across the island can resume in-house dining at 50 per cent capacity at Level 3.
Shed your at-home haircut
For the unkempt among us, Alert Level 3 brings the return of hair stylists and estheticians ready to snip back into shape the legion of at-home haircuts and other shaggy areas.
"We are so, so so happy to welcome our cherished clients back," said Yaw Antwi-Adjei, the co-owner of 1949 Barber Shop in St. John's. He said the last few weeks have been hard on his business.
His clientele must feel the same, as Antwi-Adjei says regulars have been making multiple calls to reserve a spot in the chair, with one client lingering in the shop's parking lot an hour before opening Monday, waiting for that precious first appointment.
But those appointments will be very different than in the past. With personal-care industries so closely involved in physical contact, workers and clients face new rules.
Appointments may be staggered to accommodate increased sanitization measures, masks must be worn by both parties when distancing is impossible, and walk-ins are not permitted.
That means the days of chilling out pre- and post-cut at 1949 are, for now, a thing of the past — something Antwi-Adjei says will take some getting used to.
"We've created such a culture in this barber shop," he said. "We chat around and listen to good music and all of that. And we're not going to have that. It's so sad, but at least life is still kicking."
"It's going to be a little bit different, I think, for people to adjust to," agreed esthetician Tenille Park, who works at Chatters in Corner Brook.
Park welcomes the increased health protocols in place, as her industry is unregulated in the province and the new rules provide a standard to be met. Still, Park thinks she'll have busy days ahead as people look forward to some long-awaited pampering.
"To be able to come in and sit down and relax, and take an hour or two for yourself, it's going to be a big deal for a lot of people," she said.
Tattooing, tanning and body piercing services are also able to resume operations Monday.
What happens if businesses don't comply?
Regulations and guidelines for retail businesses are still fresh. Some are opting to stay closed, while still offering curbside pickup, until they can implement public health guidelines such as signage and acrylic windows to separate cashiers and customers.
Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province's chief medical officer of health, was asked during Monday's COVID-19 briefing about what could happen if businesses are found in non-compliance with guidelines.
"At this point, if disregarding the guideline was significant and somebody — an environmental health officer for example — had to inspect, and felt something was happening that might not be safe, then education would be provided and the business would have time to respond to that to be able rectify the problem," she said.
Fitzgerald said government doesn't want to close down businesses, but wants to help them with resources so they can operate safely.
Civil service, transit changes
Public servants, the bulk of whom have been working from home since mid-March, are trickling back into offices across the province.
The union that represents the bulk of those workers, the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees, says buildings will be operating at a staffing level of about 20 per cent but they have not been provided with the exact number of returning employees.
That means smaller offices could be welcoming back a handful of employees, while larger places like Confederation Building will have an influx of several hundred. Union health and safety officials will be watching to see how physical distancing and other measures work out, particularly in formerly communal work pods and other gathering spots.
"Have they limited those spaces? We haven't been able to visually see those, not been able to enter those spaces ourselves," said NAPE president Jerry Earle.
While some public-facing provincial services are restarting, Earle says they won't exactly resemble the crowded motor vehicle registration waiting rooms of the past.
"Some of the normal counter services, where you'd walk in, 50, 60 people waiting, that won't be happening," he said.
Metrobus is increasing its capacity to 19 passengers, in addition to the driver.
"When physical distancing isn't possible, you are encouraged to wear a non-medical mask or face covering," Metrobus said in a tweet, but does not say masks are mandatory for people boarding the bus.
The full list of the relaxed rules of Alert Level 3 is available on the province's website.