Sask. restaurants/bars seen as ‘very safe’ with few COVID-19 outbreaks

Sask. restaurants/bars seen as ‘very safe’ with few COVID-19 outbreaks

Among the hundreds of outbreaks listed on the Saskatchewan government website, only two are identified at restaurants or bars this fall.

Author of the article:

Phil Tank  •  Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Las Palapas manager Jason Wosminity implemented a mandate at the restaurant for all of his employees to get vaccinated or tested regularly for COVID-19.
Las Palapas manager Jason Wosminity implemented a mandate at the restaurant for all of his employees to get vaccinated or tested regularly for COVID-19. Photo by Matt Smith /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Jason Wosminity was prepared to dismiss any employees who refused to comply with his Saskatoon restaurant’s requirement that staff provide proof of vaccination.

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Luckily for the manager of Las Palapas, it went about as smoothly as he could have hoped.

One employee who only worked one shift every two weeks left over the mandate, but the rest were immunized or made sure they got both injections of a COVID-19 vaccine before Oct. 1.

“It went over very well and I knew it would,” Wosminity said in a Thursday interview. “We all have very like-minded staff. It was quite simple, actually. It was great and peace of mind for our customers.”

Wosminity also offered the option of proof of a negative test every 72 hours, but all staff chose vaccination.

Las Palapas employees know caution during the COVID-19 pandemic is important to Wosminity. His 74-year-old father, Adam Wosminity, was the second known person to die from COVID-19 in Saskatchewan in March 2020.

Wosministy said he thought it was “silly” to require customers to show proof of vaccination or a negative test, but not make employees do the same.

After repeatedly rejecting the idea of a proof of vaccination requirement, Premier Scott Moe’s Saskatchewan Party government announced the reversal in September.

The requirement, which applies to non-essential businesses and venues, including restaurants and bars, began Oct. 1.

Wosminity said he’s since gone out to eat with his family, including his nine-year-old son, for the first time since the pandemic began.

He suggested the vaccine mandate makes this the safest time to go out to eat since last summer.

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The numbers back him up. Of the nearly 300 COVID-19 outbreaks listed Friday on the provincial government’s website, only four are identified at restaurants or bars.

Just two of those are dated since the start of the vaccine mandate: Oct. 20 at the Army and Navy Centre (ANAVET) in Prince Albert and Oct. 18 at the Western Pizza on Dewdney Avenue in Regina.

In February, when active COVID-19 cases and the number of active outbreaks were far lower, 18 outbreaks were identified at restaurants and bars, including 12 in Saskatoon alone. The Saskatchewan Health Authority declares an outbreak when two or more cases are recorded in settings outside the home.

Jim Bence, president and CEO of Hospitality Saskatchewan, said the numbers reflect what he’s hearing.

“You have a whole group of those (restaurant and bar) clients that now, I think, feel very safe in those environments because there hasn’t been any outbreaks,” Bence said Thursday.

He received a lot of questions about vaccine mandates for employees when the province first announced the shift in direction, but none in the last two weeks, he said.

There are no numbers to track how many restaurants and bars have imposed a vaccine mandate for employees.

Many employers in the restaurant industry asked staff about their vaccination status and found most were already vaccinated, Bence said. Others made compromises due to the ongoing shortage of staff in the industry, he added.

One restaurant in a rural area lost two of its six employees over the province’s vaccine mandate for customers, Bence said. Other workers opted to get vaccinated once the mandate was announced.

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Dr. Cory Neudorf, acting senior medical health officer with the Saskatchewan Health Authority and a professor of epidemiology and community health at the University of Saskatchewan, said the vaccine mandate appears to have made restaurants and bars safer.

Neudorf was one of 21 medical health officers who wrote a letter to Health Minister Paul Merriman on Oct. 21 seeking greater restrictions to control the spread of COVID-19.

The letter proposed no changes to the rules for restaurants and bars and no further restrictions.

“It appears that the steps that are being taken for protection in those venues (restaurants and bars) are working,” Neudorf said in an interview on Thursday. “It’s just we can’t say 100 per cent because of these other issues.”

Those issues include a depleted contact tracing system that prioritizes settings where there are vulnerable people, and an expanded number of contacts that can make identifying the source of transmission a challenge, he said.

But vaccine proof means the chance of transmission is “drastically” reduced, as is the chance of significant spread in restaurants and bars, Neudorf said.

Wosminity said his business in general is doing well, even though this is a slow time of year.

Bence countered that a decline in customers due to the vaccine mandate as well as challenges in finding staff continue to plague the already struggling industry.

No Saskatchewan-specific statistics exist, but a Restaurants Canada survey this month found revenue has declined for 60 per cent of restaurants requiring vaccination proof. A separate survey found nine out of 10 restaurant operators are struggling to find staff.

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“The industry is really under siege right now,” Bence said. “We arguably are in worse shape now than we were a year ago, which is almost remarkable to say. It’s extremely difficult.”

Las Palapas manager Jason Wosminity implemented a mandate at the restaurant for all of his employees to get vaccinated or tested regularly for COVID-19.
Las Palapas manager Jason Wosminity implemented a mandate at the restaurant for all of his employees to get vaccinated or tested regularly for COVID-19. Photo by Matt Smith /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

ptank@postmedia.com

twitter.com/thinktankSK

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