Mandate comes off, many masks stay on Some Winnipeggers quick to embrace freedom to uncover their faces, others not ready to publicly gamble on pandemic’s end

While many Winnipeggers appeared to take a cautious approach as Manitoba’s last remaining COVID-19 restrictions ended Tuesday, some who happily took off their face masks welcomed the so-called “new normal.”

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/03/2022 (371 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

While many Winnipeggers appeared to take a cautious approach as Manitoba’s last remaining COVID-19 restrictions ended Tuesday, some who happily took off their face masks welcomed the so-called “new normal.”

The indoor mask mandate, the self-isolation requirement for people who test positive and northern Manitoba travel restrictions were scrapped weeks after the province ditched vaccine cards, capacity limits and other rules aimed at curbing the spread of the virus.

Winkler residents celebrate getting ‘freedom back’

MALAL ABAS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS At a nearby Tim Hortons, Nolan Turnbull ordered his coffee and snack while wearing a medical grade mask. He has followed public health orders since Day 1 of the pandemic and got vaccinated as soon as possible.


WINKLER — It wasn’t just the warmer weather putting smiles on diners’ faces at Del Rios restaurant Tuesday afternoon.

For the first time in a long time, diners were permitted to mingle inside the restaurant without masks, after the province lifted the last of its pandemic public health orders Tuesday.

And customers and staff took full advantage; not one wore a face covering.

Helena Wall, who was having lunch at the Mexican restaurant, said she hopes the end of pandemic restrictions will help bridge the divide in the southern Manitoba community, where vaccination rates are among the lowest in the province.

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Masked shoppers outnumbered the unmasked at city businesses visited by the Free Press, as Manitoba became free of public-health orders despite the concerns raised by doctors and immunocompromised people.

Even though restrictions have ended, Whodunit Mystery Bookstore (163 Lilac St.) is requiring all staff and customers to wear masks.

“We are not, for the foreseeable future, having anybody without a mask in our store,” said owner Wendy Bumstead. “We don’t want people to become infected.”

Bumstead said the store may lift the rule when Manitoba’s infection rate is lower. lists businesses requiring customers and staff to cover their faces. As of Tuesday afternoon there were more than 20 names on the list, said Winnipegger Kerri MacKay, who runs the website.

Although masks are now optional for customers at Bagelsmith Winnipeg (185 Carlton St.), owner Phil Klein and his staff will continue to wear them.

“I just figured this was the path of least resistance,” said Klein, adding enforcing the mandate was an exhausting challenge for staff.

When a previous provincial mandate ended in August, Klein decided to maintain a mandatory mask policy. Before long, he was getting hate-filled emails and social media messages.

He’s taking a different approach this time after gauging what other businesses were planning to do and considering the vaccination rate, which is much higher than it was last summer.

Within a few hours of opening Tuesday, every customer who walked into the shop had a mask on. But Klein expects to see more maskless customers in the weeks ahead.

“I imagine it will take some time before people feel comfortable removing them,” he said.

Chuck Davidson, president and CEO of Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, said he expects a 50-50 split when it comes to businesses with some sort of mask policy for customers and/or employees.

He urged Manitobans to be respectful of each other.

At CF Polo Park, shopper Melody Myers, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2020, was among those who went maskless.

“Now that I’m alive and cancer-free, I’m going to celebrate every second of it, including not wearing a mask,” she said. “They don’t seem to be all that bothered by (me) not wearing a mask. I think it makes people feel a little bit normal.”

Myers is happy to have the ability to choose whether to wear a mask. She hopes Manitobans will continue to take precautions such as hand-washing or staying home when they feel ill now that the mandate, which was reimposed Sept. 3, is gone.

Carrying multiple shopping bags and wearing a winter jacket, Kristen Schultz said she took her mask off because she was feeling hot. At times, she was wearing it around her chin.

“I went into one store and the employee stepped back, so I thought, ‘OK, I’ll put it up,” said Schultz. “Ultimately, if you want to wear it, wear it. If you don’t, don’t. I’m thankful it’s back in the hands of people to make the decision for themselves.”

Cora Hanson, who took her mask off to sip from a drink while shopping with her husband, Logan, two-year-old son Kayden and one-year-old daughter Amelia, said she will continue to wear a mask in crowded places.

Seeing shoppers’ faces and a restriction-free CF Polo Park was, to say the least, an unusual experience.

“It’s like a flashback,” Hanson said. “Everything looks like it did before the pandemic.”

Illona Cicansky went maskless as she strolled through the mall with her husband, Bill, who was wearing one. The Winkler couple didn’t know what to expect when they arrived.

“I have a bit of a lung condition, and I don’t breathe real well (with one),” said Illona.

Bill, a Baptist pastor, said he has no problem if people don’t wear a mask.

“That’s their choice,” he said.

Most shoppers emerging from the Real Canadian Superstore at Sargent Avenue and St. James Street had masks on, including health-care worker Myra Rosario, who said she has no way of knowing if the person next to her is vaccinated or infected with the virus.

“I will not take my mask off,” she said.

While optional in most retail settings, masks continue to be mandatory at hospitals, doctors’ offices and other health-care facilities in the province. They are optional at city facilities.

Winnipeg Transit riders aren’t required to wear masks, but face coverings are still mandatory for drivers and other city employees.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 president Romeo Ignacio expected pushback the majority of bus drivers who want the option to take off their masks.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 president Romeo Ignacio expected pushback the majority of bus drivers who want the option to take off their masks.

He said at least three union members were sent home after refusing to wear one on the job Tuesday.

Ignacio said the policy is “unreasonable,” and the union is considering filing a grievance amid ongoing talks with management.

A Winnipeg Transit spokeswoman said a “very small number” of employees decided not to comply with the city mandate and chose to go home rather than put on a mask.

At the Manitoba legislature, members of the Progressive Conservative government largely ditched their face coverings in the chamber Tuesday.

During question period, just five of the assembled Tory MLAs wore masks: Kildonan-River East MLA Cathy Cox, Families Minister Rochelle Squires, Natural Resources and Northern Development Minister Scott Fielding, Labour Minister Reg Helwer and McPhillips MLA Shannon Martin.

Most New Democrats in the chamber wore masks, as did the three Liberal MLAs in the house.

Prior to Tuesday, MLAs were required to wear face coverings while moving around the chamber and through the Legislative Building but could remove them while seated at their desks.

Outside the chamber, it was a mixed bag, as clerks and pages continued to cover up in the chamber and some security staff did not.

Media working in the building continued to cover their faces.

Health Minister Audrey Gordon said going forward she will don a mask based on a personal risk assessment, as recommended by chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin.

“Today in the legislature and in the chamber I have not worn one because I’ve assessed my risk level to be low and I will continue to do that in all the environments that I visit or that I’m present at,” Gordon said.

— With files from Danielle Da Silva

Twitter: @chriskitching

Chris Kitching

As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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