THUNDER BAY — With capacity limits eased in Ontario on Thursday, not all organizations will return to full business as usual.
As of Thursday, capacity limits were removed in places such as restaurants, gyms and movie theatres and social gathering limits were increased to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors. On March 1, the provincial government will lift capacity limits in all remaining indoor public settings and end proof-of-vaccination requirements for all settings.
But in organizations such as gyms, grocery stores, pharmacies, churches, and some retail stores, capacity limits will continue based on the number of people who can maintain a distance of two metres.
Fred Colli, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Thunder Bay, said the increase of capacity limits for the church technically doesn’t mean anything for them.
“Churches have never required that you need to be vaccinated to come to church,” he said. “We could have people there who are vaccinated and don’t check at the doors. We are still at 50 per cent capacity per building based on social distancing.”
Colli said during the pandemic, pews and seating have been roped off to allow for two-metre social distancing and that won’t change until March 1 when capacity limits are expected to be lifted in all indoor public settings.
“If the government takes away all capacity limits, then we will do that,” he said, adding that the presumption is that the “vast majority” of parishioners are indeed vaccinated.
I’m looking forward to the ceasing of all this social distancing, but I’m still concerned that people are safe when they come to church. . . . So they have to wear masks. That’s OK,” said Colli.
Jenn Bisignano, owner of Push Fitness, is on the same page as Colli.
“We will continue to be affected by capacity limitation because even though we’re at 100 per cent capacity, physical distancing limitations are still in place,” said Bisignano.
“People are still expected to keep at least a two-metre distance from one another. I would think in most facilities like mine, regardless if you’re technically allowed to let more people in the door, you’re still only allowed to let the number of people that can safely stay two-metres apart from one another.”
With 20,000 square feet of space, Bisignano’s capacity remains high with safe space for her members. She has found that many are still unclear on the rules and may still think that you have to book an appointment or potentially get turned away at the door because they’re at capacity.
“Because our size is so big, people still are concerned about that,” she said.
“So we definitely have been impacted by the capacity limits more so because of what people perceive to be a capacity limit.”
Bisignano is a vaccine supporter and has all COVID-19 vaccinations, including her booster. She says next month the government will “put it back in the hands of the business owner” as to whether they want to continue requiring proof of vaccination before letting people into their facility.
“That puts all of the fallout on me . . . and that’s a lot to ask of a small business owner after two years of a pandemic . . . to risk any public fallout because of a personal decision. My take on the situation is that I won’t be requiring the passport beyond March 1.”
Capacity limitations at the Royal Canadian Legion, Slovak Branch 129, had a large impact on the organization with restrictions of larger gatherings such as weddings, sports banquets and funerals.
Cadets who sell poppies annually were reduced to a third, which in turn brought in one third of the revenue for the poppy fund.
Vic Renouf, president of the branch, says capacity limits also resulted in staffing issues which was compounded by the requirement of someone on hand to check proof of vaccination for people coming to dine in the bar area. He said the problem was solved when they converted their poppy phone to be able to track QR codes with staff on hand.
Yet out of the chaos, some good emerged.
The Remembrance Day service in 2021, that would have normally taken place at the Fort William Gardens, was instead hosted at the Slovak Legion.
“We had the facilities to do it here and we had the social distancing mandates in place so we put on a luncheon and hosted the ceremony in the big hall,” Renouf said. “There was plenty of safe room for everyone. The mayor came, everybody came, it was fantastic. It went over so well, we decided that we would do it again.”
At Intercity Shopping Centre, the portions of the food court that were sectioned off due to capacity limits were all opened Thursday morning but some measures remain in place.
“The capacity restrictions that are imposed throughout the rest of the shopping centre still apply to a two-metre rule to make sure that people have space to social distance,” said Stacey Ball, general manager of the mall.
Ball says the new cleaning protocols that they adopted during the COVID-19 period will continue, to maintain a clean and safe environment for everyone at the mall.
“It’s been a long couple of years,” she said. “There has definitely been an impact on our traffic throughout the entire COVID period. It certainly is the light at the end of the tunnel and we are excited to bring back shoppers, reopen fully and get back to normal. We will continue to do that to make sure that shoppers feel, you know, safe to be here.”