COVID-19 numbers in the Sault and Algoma region have been low throughout the ongoing pandemic, but to keep it that way, all those in public indoor spaces will be required by Algoma Public Health (APH) to wear face masks beginning July 17.
That includes staff and customers of many Sault and Algoma indoor businesses.
It may be a big change for some, or a simple ramping up of the pandemic norm for others.
“Right when COVID started, we always made it mandatory for our staff to wear masks," said Ryan Rosset, a gemmologist and goldsmith at Savoy’s Jewellers, located in Sault Ste. Marie's Station Mall.
"It reassured our staff we cared and it was the right thing to do even though it wasn’t mandatory (at the time), so moving forward, after Friday, it won’t be out of the ordinary for us."
Rosset said it is “of course” good for customers to also wear masks beginning Friday.
“We’ve been providing masks right from day one for customers if they felt the need to wear one – we have them readily available for customers – so you can definitely bring your own or we have them available for customers.”
Rosset estimated “50 to 60 per cent” of his customers have been coming into his shop with masks since Station Mall merchants were allowed to reopen in a loosening of COVID-19 restrictions in June.
“It’s the new look for 2020...maybe jewelled masks are in the future,” Rosset chuckled.
At Rome's Your Independent Grocer, masks will be mandatory for customers entering the store and staff are already prepared to wear masks, said owner Chris Rome.
Rome said he is conferring with APH over all the details of the health unit’s directive, but said “we’re going to make masks available at the door for purchase.”
“If someone doesn’t have a mask, when they enter the store they can purchase a mask for a dollar and all proceeds go to President’s Choice Children’s Charity,” Rome said.
Gary Trembinski, Metallo’s Mini Mart owner/operator, said he and his staff have already been operating behind plexiglass, using hand sanitizer and wearing PPE while interacting with customers in his convenience store during the pandemic.
“Most of the customers coming in have had masks already,” Trembinski said.
“This is another step to get through this...we’re going to do whatever they (APH) need us to do."
Areas of mechanics shops, garages, and repair shops which are open to the public will also observe the APH mask directive.
“100 per cent,” said Curtis Pitre, Northside Toyota's general manager.
“Any staff member in a public space will be required to wear masks and we will also have plexiglass barriers between staff and customers who come to the service desk.”
“We’re going to implement everything that’s been mandated by Algoma Public Health and we’re going to follow the guidelines to the letter, and we will provide masks to customers who do not have their own,” Pitre said.
“It’s important to us to ensure the safety of all of our staff members, customers, distributors, delivery men, everybody involved, to keep everybody safe in this pandemic.”
Management officials with some of the Sault’s larger stores, such as the Walmart Supercentre on Great Northern Road, were not immediately available for comment Monday.
Sault Ste. Marie joins a growing list of communities requiring mask use in public indoor spaces.
In Sudbury, Public Health Sudbury & Districts introduced a mandatory face mask policy on July 8. Under its directive, businesses are required to have a mask policy in place; however, it's left to the businesses' discretion whether or not to accept customers who decline to wear one.