Monday’s public health guidelines also caused confusion for teachers and parents unsure about the requirements for masks in schools

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Nigel Pike, who owns Vancouver’s Main Street Brewing Co., doesn’t understand why tougher COVID restrictions brought in on Monday prevent his customers from having a beer on his patio while dining outdoors at a restaurant or pub is okay.

Owners of B.C.’s brewpubs, wine bars and tasting rooms are fuming that the new provincial health orders will shutter businesses that have a patio but only serve light snacks or appetizers. Restaurants and pubs can continue to serve patrons on outdoor patios as long as they provide full meal service. However, patrons aren’t forced to order food when having a beverage on the patio of a restaurant or pub.

“I can go to one of my restaurants and have a beer on a patio with no intention of eating, so why can’t I come to my brewery and have a beer on the patio?” asked Pike, who also owns El Camino’s, The Union and The Cascade Room, all of which have outdoor patios. Another problem, Pike said, is that the province hasn’t defined what a “meal” is.

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Because his brewery has a kitchen, Pike has been able to pivot and serve pizza, allowing his patio to stay open. But many breweries don’t have the same flexibility, he said.

Ken Beattie, executive director of the B.C. Craft Brewers Guild, said he has heard from many brewery and tasting room operators who are frustrated and confused by the new order.

“What difference does (food service) make?” Beattie asked, “unless there’s scientific evidence that I’m unaware of that food stops the transmission (of COVID).” Beattie has raised his concerns with the provincial health office and is hopeful that changes might be made.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said Wednesday the requirement for food on patios was a decision made by public health “as a control measure.” Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said in the past that people are more likely to flout COVID rules when they are intoxicated, which is why previous orders suspended liquor service early on St. Patrick’s Day and New Year’s Eve.

“People coming together for a full meal, that’s a different proposition than people getting together for drinks,” Dix said. “That means if you’re at an outdoor patio, you’re there for a full meal and not something less than that.”

Henry said Monday there is a greater risk for COVID-19 to spread indoors, which is why her order suspended indoor dining in pubs, restaurants and cafes until April 19. Indoor faith services will also not be allowed during the spring religious holidays, and gyms must halt all indoor fitness classes such as yoga and pilates. The restrictions come as a result of a surge in COVID-19 cases, with a record 1,013 new cases reported Wednesday.

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Justin Lee, owner of Vancouver’s Commodore Lanes, which has five-pin bowling, pool and a licensed lounge, said as of Tuesday he stopped serving alcohol and non-alcoholic drinks to his customers. The premises does not serve food, but Lee said the loss of alcohol sales will be a huge hit to his bottom line.

To businesses unsure of where they fit in the public health order, Henry said Monday: “If you are unsure if this applies to you, I am asking you to stop what you are doing for the next three weeks so that we can make progress with our immunization program.”

Monday’s enhanced safety guidelines for schools also led to confusion around whether masks in schools are mandatory or simply recommended. Students in Grades 4 through 12 will be required to wear masks in classrooms, according to updated guidelines released Tuesday night by the B.C. Ministry of Education.

According to safety guidelines sent to schools on Tuesday, “effective immediately all K-12 staff and all students in Grades 4 to 12 will be required to wear non-medical masks in all indoor areas, including when they are at their work stations (desks), and on school buses — both within and outside of their learning group.” Masks for students in kindergarten to Grade 3 are encouraged but not mandatory. Students will also be required to complete a daily health check through an app to confirm they are not attending school if they feel unwell.

There are exceptions for people who have health or disability challenges that prevent them from wearing a mask, and in cases where a service is being provided to someone, such as a person with hearing impairment who relies on lip reading or facial expressions to communicate. Students can remove masks temporarily to engage in an activity where the mask is prohibitive, such as eating or drinking, playing an instrument or engaging in physical activity.

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Since Monday, the B.C. Teachers’ Federation has been fielding questions from confused teachers and parents who said they were unclear as to whether Henry’s announcement Monday meant masks were mandatory or recommended. The union’s president Teri Mooring said the confusion came because Henry stated Monday that public health guidance has been updated to “support and encourage” students in grades 4 to 12 to wear masks at school, however health and safety guidelines for schools, which said masks are “required”, were not posted by the Ministry of Education until Tuesday night.

That delay, Mooring said, caused undue anxiety and uncertainty for teachers who are already highly stressed by more frequent COVID-19 exposure notices in schools. Those teachers are already carrying the heavy burden of keeping students safe, she said.

Mooring said she wishes the Ministry of Education and provincial health office were more proactive on requiring students to wear masks at their desks, a measure that’s been in place in other provinces since September.

“Schools reflect what’s happening in local communities, and we support public health’s decision to introduce additional mask measures to our K-12 guidelines across the province,” Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said in a statement Wednesday morning. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, public health orders and guidelines have been amended to reflect changing knowledge and the risk of spread of COVID-19 in the community and different settings.”

kderosa@postmedia.com

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