Proof of vax pushed to fringe of local business sphere
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Board game haven A Muse N Games prides itself on being a safe space for all tabletop enthusiasts. So when the province last month dropped its proof of vaccination and mask requirements, the Winnipeg business decided to keep playing the vax card.
It is now among the last in the city to continue requesting COVID-19 proof of vaccination for services.
While it primarily serves as a retail shop, it also hosts regular gameplay sessions in store — in-person meetings that can last hours.
“We’ve got a bunch of eight-to-12-year-olds playing Dungeons & Dragons (weekly). Do I want to be that community spot where these kids end up getting COVID and how does that impact the rest of their lives?” co-owner Brian Mitchell told the Free Press Wednesday.
The decision was reinforced over the last month, Mitchell said.
The business barely made it after an exposure caused by someone COVID-positive entering the store maskless resulted in a co-worker getting COVID-19 and isolating for 10 days and another staff member having to leave her job because of the health complications caused by the coronavirus, he said.
With the rise of more transmissible variants, Mitchell said having unvaccinated players isn’t something its ready to accept, despite any fallout.
“One of our main values is inclusivity, and we are excluding people who aren’t vaccinated from in-store play right now. And that doesn’t feel good That’s not what A Muse N Games is about, we’re not about excluding people,” he said.
It has become an increasingly tough stance.
The vast majority of local businesses — even those that kept rules in place after the province’s March 1 removal of the proof of vax requirement — have slowly but surely dropped use of the Manitoba card and app system, Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer Loren Remillard said.
“As people became generally more comfortable, more and more decided to remove it as a requirement. It’s just not something I hear a lot of discussion about, to be honest,” he said.
A crowd-sourced online database of local businesses lists just 11 that have proof of vax requirements, as of March 15, the last time it was updated.
Out of the approximately five per cent of restaurants that kept asking for proof of vaccination after it was no longer mandated provincially, less than two per cent have kept that policy going into April, according to Manitoba Restaurant & Foodservices Association CEO Shaun Jeffrey.
“Horrible” harassment and staff intimidation by a loud minority had a heavy hand to play in that decision for many, he said.
“You’ve got a 16-year-old hostess standing at the front having to tell people that they can’t come into your restaurant because they don’t have a vaccine passport even though the government’s not mandating anymore. And then they get the brunt of that,” Jeffrey said.
“A lot of operators said that they were just choosing not to do it, because they did not want their staff facing the backlash.”
At the West End Cultural Centre, entrants still have to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 to catch a show. The venue has continued to ask for it since the mandate was dropped, and most people have been understanding — outside of few objectors, artistic director Jorge Requena Ramos said.
“We’ve had people be unkind about it. But for every one selfish and unkind person that comes to complain, there are 10 people that thank us for (requiring) vaccines and masks,” he said.
It’s a “very basic human, lowest common denominator” choice to make, Ramos said. He suggested performance venues are in a unique spot — where some that dropped mandates in tune with the province may bring them back as artists begin to choose to only play venues with such rules in place.
“They’re going to have to if you want to bring those artists. There’s no way.”
At A Muse N Games, Mitchell said a small handful of people in recent weeks have walked in and immediately left when asked to put on a mask or provide proof of vaccination. The vast majority has been understanding, he said, adding the business will continue to look at the rules on a month-by-month basis.
“Is it possible that we’re losing money because we’re doing this? Yes,” Mitchell said. “At the same time, is there a segment of the community that absolutely appreciates that we’re choosing to continue to do this? Yes, absolutely.”
On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the province wouldn’t say if it was considering discontinuing the vaccine passport authentication app, adding it was assessing the continued need for it.
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.