Local businesses ‘in totally uncharted waters’ as Sask. COVID-19 cases rise

The Rotary Club of Prince Albert named My Place General Manager Randy Whitter (centre) a Paul Harris Fellow in April 2018. (Rotary Club of Prince Albert/Submitted)

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is straining Prince Albert businesses despite some relief from the federal government.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $27 billion of support for Canadian workers and businesses through the COVID-19 Economic Response Plan, plus an extra $55 billion to meet liquidity needs of Canadian businesses and households through tax deferrals.

“No Canadian should have to worry about paying their rent or buying groceries during this difficult time. That is why we are taking the strong action needed to stabilize our economy and help those impacted by the COVID-19 virus. Together, we will get through this difficult time,” said Trudeau.

While Prince Albert and District Chamber of Commerce CEO Elise Hildebrandt is thankful for some relief on Canadian businesses, she said the uncertainty remains.

“There’s still a lot of questions many of our small business owners have got right across Canada. In a phone call that I was just barely on, they were like ‘Okay, who still has to wait one week? Do we have to contact somebody immediately about the mortgage payments?’” she said.

For Canadians without paid sick leaves who are sick, quarantined or forced to stay home with their children, the government is waiving the one-week waiting period for those people in imposed quarantine that claim Employment Insurance (EI) sickness benefits.

“It’s just going to take a little bit of time to figure out maybe how all of that plays out,” said Hildebrandt.

“How do we work the system to get what we need?”

Also on Wednesday, the provincial government announced a state of emergency. With this comes mandatory closures of all fitness facilities and bingo halls, for example, and restaurants can’t have more than 50 people in them at a time.

Premier Scott Moe, during Wednesday’s update, said restaurants and daycares should prepare for full closures as the province’s COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

Hildebrandt asked the public to “do absolutely everything you can” to support local during this time, even through chain stores.

“Go online to Michaels and order and you’ve got a place that you can go and pick it up so you don’t have to go to a store. When you support them locally, you’re helping keeping the employees—and those employees are partners, spouses, kids, people in our community.”

The Chamber of Commerce has launched a space on its website for the public to resort to for reliable information on temporary closures, reduced hours, and alternative services.

All businesses—not just members—can contact the Chamber at (306) 764-6222 to include their business information.

My Place General Manager Randy Whitter said the catering side of his business is nearly out of jobs until July.

“We have some businesses, offices, some family events that are still looking for catering where they want us to come to them, so we have designed it where the food is all pre-packaged, we’re taking it that way, we’re taking it to them,” he said.

With traditional catering, his staff are doing the serving so customers don’t touch any of the food or utensils before eating.

The coffee house near Victoria Hospital—which now has limited seating—saw its slowest day on Thursday. While the business hasn’t reduced its hours, Whitter said they’ll be looking into it next week.

He hasn’t reduced work hours for staff either because “it’s their job and they all depend on it.”

“We’re totally in unchartered waters,” he said, but is continuing to see the positive in the situation.

“Hopefully the world takes from this that we all need to learn how to get along with each other and how we need to adapt. Human beings can be tremendously resilient. We just need to find the ways and the means by which to empower people with that,” said Whitter.

PASH Yoga, on the other hand, opened just over a year ago in the city. Owner Megan Pashak said they decided to temporarily close the studio on Monday.

“It’s kind of just been ‘How can I shift my focus in supporting the yoga community that we’ve built up?” she questioned.

She found that answer in providing weekly online classes. They’ll be emailed out to their unlimited members, as well as posted on the studio’s social media.

“A lot of reasons that people come is for their mental health,” explained Pashak.

“Not being able to come to the studio and kind of clear your mind, I thought bringing it into their home and continuing with that practice of a healthy mind…it was important to keep everybody active.”

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has developed a guide for business preparedness in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Visit its website and click on ‘COVID-19: Business Resilience under’ ‘Resources’ to view the guide. The page also includes a list of webinars, toolkits, government programs and other resources.