Unvaccinated children a factor for Manitoba businesses keeping mandatory mask policies

The looming end to the province’s mandatory mask mandate is not sitting well with some Manitobans.

Starting Saturday, face coverings used to prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 will no longer be mandatory in indoor public places — only recommended.

Businesses and organizations can choose to continue requiring masks and people can still choose to wear one. Many are doing exactly that.

At St. Vital Park, Doris Mooney and her grandchildren do not need to wear a face covering because they are outside. Starting Saturday the province will no longer require people to wear one indoors either, but Mooney, who’s fully vaccinated, still plans to mask up in order to protect others from the more contagious Delta variant.

“Of course to make sure my grandchildren don’t get it because they can’t be vaccinated,” said Mooney.

The province unveiled the move Tuesday as part of a broader reopening plan amid high vaccination rates and low case counts.

Instead the province said wearing a mask in indoor public places is now “strongly recommended” for everyone who’s not immunized, including children under 12.

The move surprised Dorota Blumczyńska, the CEO of the Manitoba Museum, who said she expected it would be one of the last measures to go.

“What we can do here at the Manitoba Museum is we can continue to require masks and that’s our contribution to our shared safety,” Blumczyńska said.

The museum is reopening for the first time in months on Thursday under the current health orders.

When the new orders take effect Saturday, Blumczyńska said the museum will keep a mandatory mask policy for visitors in place for anyone five years of age and older.

“And that’s in large part because so many children enjoy this space and we know that many in our communities are still unvaccinated,” Blumczyńska said. “And we have a shared responsibility to keep them safe.”

Paul Clerkin, a co-owner of Stone Angel Brewing, said all taproom staff have been fully vaccinated but will continue to wear masks while serving people in the taproom and on the patio. Clerkin said the business will keep tables spread out and require customers to wear face coverings when they’re not seated, a move made in part for parents whose children are not yet eligible to be immunized.

“I think people like that will be looking at bars and restaurants that maintain social distancing and masks as places for them that is safe to go with their children,” Clerkin said.

The brewery will also be reserving indoor seating for fully vaccinated customers even they’re no longer required by the province to check people’s immunization status.

“It means the businesses are now responsible for doing something the government should be doing themselves,” Clerkin said. “It means if there’s any pushback the bars and restaurants no longer have the ‘well, it’s a provincial rule’ to fall back on.”

On Tuesday, Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, urged people to patient and kind with others. When asked about kids who can’t be vaccinated Roussin reiterated something he’s said throughout the pandemic.

“The younger children are certainly much less at risk of severe outcomes or much less able to spread this virus,” Roussin said.

Other health experts argue mandatory masking should continue to protect unvaccinated children.

“We wear masks primarily to protect other people,” said Dr. Anand Kumar, an intensive care physician and infectious disease specialist. “I think children who can’t be vaccinated need to be protected and the best way to protect them is to continue public health measures, particularly masking.”

That’s what Mooney plans to do even though she doesn’t have to.

“We don’t want anybody to get sick because there’s so many deaths already with COVID,” Mooney said.”

The Manitoba Museum will require eligible people to be fully vaccinated to get in over the next two days. However, starting Saturday, as per provincial rules, people who are not vaccinated will also be allowed in as long as they are wearing a mask.