Businesses and organizations were taking varied approaches Monday to the end of New Brunswick’s mask mandate.

At least one plans to keep a mask requirement for limited hours, while another is asking — but not requiring — customers to wear them, and another plans to let staff and customers do whatever makes them feel comfortable.

“We’re not here to judge whether you’re wearing a mask or you’re uncomfortable,” said Luc Doucet, CEO and executive chef at Black Rabbit, a restaurant in Moncton. “We’re here to make everyone comfortable.

“So we’ll, we’ll definitely keep the cleaning protocols and everything we were doing before on hand, but for our staff, I think for the masks and all those things, that will be kind of the individual’s decision if they wear them or not.”

The mask mandate is just one of a handful of COVID-19 restrictions the New Brunswick government dropped as of Monday, including gathering limits for formal and informal events, and isolation requirements for those who test positive.

The end of the mask mandate means businesses and organizations no longer have to require their clients to wear them, but they still have the authority to keep the mask rule, or some version of it, if they choose.

With the end of the province’s mask mandate, the Fredericton YMCA has introduced a policy of its own, which it says is aimed at people who might feel uncomfortable using the Y around those who aren’t masked.

From 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. every day, mask use will be mandatory, said president and CEO Darcy Delaney.

“Through some member feedback, we made the decision to set aside a 90-minute period each day to accommodate members who felt more comfortable or felt comfortable staying at the gym if other members were asked to wear their mask while they’re in public spaces that are common, and while not actively exercising,” Delaney said.

Delaney said 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. was chosen as it’s a period when more of the YMCA’s older clientele tend to visit the Y.

The 90-minute period will also benefit the members of its Stay Strong program, which is designed for cancer patients who want to stay active during their treatment, he said.

“We’re looking at a segment of our membership that could potentially be immunocompromised, or the risk of contracting COVID-19 or any virus might have more ill adverse effects on them,” he said.

“It gives people an hour to come in and exercise with 15 minutes on each end to get changed and get ready to either start their exercise program or to finish their exercise program.”

Delaney said there has been some negative feedback about the decision, but it this has been largely outweighed by supportive feedback.

He said for now, a mandatory mask policy will remain in effect for the YMCA’s employees.

“That really comes back to keeping people employed, keeping people healthy, and prevention. You know, the medical officer of health has decided that masks are no longer a requirement, but they haven’t said that they’re ineffective.”

Staff at Hair Hunters Styling in downtown Fredericton are asking clients to wear masks, but will still accept clients who choose not to, said stylist Sally Clarkson.

Throughout the pandemic, clients expressed satisfaction with the health protocols, and indicated they wanted to see them remain even when no longer mandated, Clarkson said.

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“We’ve been asking a lot of our clientele for the last few weeks, months coming up to this, right?” she said.

“So we’re doing what … people want us to do and what we want to do ourselves. There might be some people that come in here that just don’t give a crap about anything … but we want to make our clientele happy and keep them safe.”

Little change in mask usage

Delaney said that outside the 90-minute mandatory mask period, a large majority of clients wore their masks to the YMCA on Monday.

“To be honest, the whole day has not seemed very out of the ordinary compared to the last couple of months,” he said.

“I would say just with the eyeball test, approximately 70 percent of our members are probably still wearing masks when they come into the building.”

Clarkson said none of the clients who came into the salon on Monday wanted to do so without a mask, adding that overall mask usage at Kings Place Mall, where the salon is located, was high.

“No changes whatsoever. I even went inside the mall earlier and even in the Dollar Store. Everybody had masks on,” she said.

Hoping for better business

Doucet said he’s hoping Monday marks the beginning of a rebound in business after a difficult two years, though he added the pandemic isn’t over and the path ahead remains uncertain.

“There’s like a lot of emotions, I think and … we don’t really know what’s going on because we’ve been through two years of changes and, and are we going to change again,” he said.

“There are still uncertainties, it seems, and we’re really hoping that this is maybe not the end of the pandemic, but at least a way toward something that’s more normal.”

John Wishart, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Moncton, said he feels “a giant sense of relief” from business owners with the end of restrictions.

“It has been a long two years and a difficult two years and they’ve been watching and waiting for this day for a long time,” he said, speaking on CBC’s Information Morning Moncton.

“But it’s also a sense of hope that this is a true restart of the economic recovery and not a false restart like we saw last summer when restrictions stopped.”

At the same time, Wishart said, some business owners remain anxious about the changes and are still contemplating the right balance between health and safety and economic gain.

“I think there’s also a little bit of anxiety because no one really knows the right mix of caution and commerce as we emerge,” he said.

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