By Sue Tiffin
As restrictions began to lift across the province on Friday with the launch of Step 1 of Ontario’s COVID-19 economic recovery framework, much-needed rain in Haliburton County fell, but did not dampen spirits of business owners able to open for more service to more customers.
“We’ll just call it a gentle reopening and tomorrow the sun will be out and it will be amazing,” said Paul Roy at Up River Trading Co. “Maybe the rain isn’t a bad thing, it gives us a chance to get back into the groove. Maybe it’ll be a little less busy, people won’t want to line up outside in the rain, I imagine. It’s a nice ease back into the swing of things for us, kind of like our first day of school.”
During the third provincial lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic, the retail sections of both the Haliburton and Minden Up River locations have been barricaded since April while the cafés remained open, with any retail product sales happening by curbside order and pick-up. Now the stores are open to reduced capacity, but Roy said people can once again wander the stores, purchase gifts, and enjoy the limited seating patio, too.
“We’ve had great support and encouragement from our customers all throughout this, and to be able to open the doors and see people again is wonderful,” he said.
Though there is extra work involved in monitoring number of customers, arranging furniture, and continuing to ensure public health restrictions are met, Roy doesn’t mind.
“It’s OK, it’s kind of what we were doing last summer in terms of the restrictions, just a few less people are allowed – it’s sort of how we functioned the entire last summer and fall,” he said. “It’s not new, it’s just new, recently.”
Roy said he’s hopeful for a busy summer, and has prepared with new inventory and an expansion at the Minden store.
“It’s been a good start, it’s been a very good start, we’re very happy,” said Roy. “People have been enthusiastic, they’ve been coming in, we’ve opened our doors and it seems like people are really happy about it.”
On Thursday afternoon, before Friday’s reopening, Andy Oh answered the phone mid-task, preparing the patio for Maple Avenue Tap and Grill’s opening after months of a take-out only option at the Highland Street restaurant.
“I’m very excited to see people, and how they enjoy the food we prepare for them,” said Oh. “People coming in, enjoying the food and the atmosphere and the service – so we are kind of going back to the restaurant we are supposed to be. It’s very exciting, the opening of the patio.”
Echoing what many other local employers have mentioned, it has been a challenge for Oh to find staff for the restaurant this year, which he said was possibly due to insecurity because of three prior lockdowns, or less need for work with financial support currently in place by the government during the pandemic.
Usually people are lined up with resumes, he said, so the staff shortage has been frustrating, but as the province was reopening he was grateful for support from the community and very much looking forward to offering dine-in services again, alongside take-out options. To view the restaurant’s takeout options, visit https://www.restaurantji.com/on/haliburton/maple-avenue-tap-and-grill-/.
“I’m excited – more than excited, I’m thankful to have this opportunity I’m having right now,” he said. “Even though the situation, it’s hard to find people [staff], it’s just a temporary situation. Eventually we’re going to be going back to normal.”
Under Step 1 of the province’s framework, patio dining with outdoor seating and limits of four per table – or more in the case of a larger family – is allowed. Face masks are mandatory except when seated, and sanitization protocols remain in place. Indoor dining is allowed in Step 3 of the reopening in several weeks time.
Non-essential retail can resume in Step 1, at limited capacity – up to 15 per cent. Essential retail can continue at 25 per cent capacity.
While Haliburton Forest Wolf Centre remains closed to the public until Step 3, the Step 1 reopening regulations allow for the evening wolf howl program to happen outdoors, with the first event scheduled for 16. Also, Rails End Gallery and Arts Centre hoped to welcome up to 10 participants in a community drum circle planned to be held outside on June 11.
Step 1 began three days earlier than the government had initially anticipated, with the reopening announcement made on June 7 due to continued dropping case counts of COVID-19 throughout the province and vaccination efforts seeing at least 60 per cent of Ontario residents with their first vaccine.
“Thanks to the ongoing success of Team Ontario’s vaccine rollout and the ongoing improvements in public health trends, we are able to enter Step 1 of the roadmap, and begin to safely and cautiously lift restrictions,” Premier Doug Ford said in a press release on June 7. “The only reason we’re able to do so is because of the enormous sacrifices made by individuals, families and communities across Ontario. As we begin to enjoy the benefits of the first step in our roadmap, like meeting friends on a patio or visiting your favourite local store, please do so safely by continuing to follow all public health guidelines.”
The changes came into effect at 12:01 a.m. on June 11.
Besides patios and stores reopening, Step 1 also allows for drive-in theatres, day camps, overnight camping, outdoor fitness classes and sports training, outdoor attractions including zoos, historic sites and gardens and short-term rentals, to reopen with safety protocols and limited numbers of people allowed. Up to 10 people are now allowed to gather in backyards, and travel within Ontario is allowed but not shared accommodation with another family unless it’s with someone who lives alone. Horse racing and motor racetracks can reopen without spectators. Recreational boating is allowed with only members of one household aboard. Personal care services including haircuts, indoor gyms and team sports are still on hold until upcoming phases.
Dr. Natalie Bocking, medical officer of health for the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge district health unit asked that people be mindful that Step 1 is the opening phase of reopening, and to continue to follow public health guidelines to help reduce spread of COVID-19 as vaccination roll-out takes place.
“I think we are all waiting and quite anxious to get to Step 3, we don’t want to see us having to take a step back depending on case activity. Now that we are entering the summer months, nicer weather, more opportunity to spend outside, I think I’m reassured that we will continue to see lower activity, especially as our vaccination coverage continues to increase but I would continue to encourage people to be mindful of all of the public health measures we’ve continued to emphasize throughout all of the pandemic response: maintaining social distance, continuing to wear masks, frequent hand-washing, if you’re sick, to be staying at home, getting a COVID test, and to be careful as you start to reengage in some of the activities that you had been doing prior to this most-recent lockdown.”