Staff COVID-19 cases continue to stymie small-business sector

Local small businesses continue to grapple with closures and scheduling challenges, amid positive COVID-19 tests for staff and reduced public health measures.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/03/2022 (188 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Local small businesses continue to grapple with closures and scheduling challenges, amid positive COVID-19 tests for staff and reduced public health measures.

Patent 5 Distillery shuttered last week when four staff contracted the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. General manager Callan Anderson said the Exchange District business had no choice but to take a financial hit to protect its workers and customers.

“There was just no way that we could have covered the scheduling,” the 29-year-old said Monday.

Anderson believes the co-workers likely contracted the virus from her while on the job, even though staff wear KN95 masks at work.

“There was just no way that we could have covered the scheduling,” said Patent 5 General Manager Callan Anderson. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press files)

The manager/bartender is concerned other Manitoba businesses will be forced to decide whether to close or remain open amid staff COVID-19 infections now that the province’s mandatory isolation requirement has been lifted.

“I don’t think we should be resting on our laurels and thinking that this (the pandemic) is over,” Anderson said.

Patent 5 Distillery closed its doors March 23-26. While Anderson couldn’t say how much revenue was lost, she said the tasting room’s front-of-house is a significant source of income.

“We’re able to operate on various delivery apps, and so when there’s not somewhere here to handle those, you lose out in that respect as well,” she said.

The province’s daily COVID-19 data dashboard updates ended March 25. Pandemic-related public health information will now come in weekly online epidemiology reports.

While Patent 5 staff are on the mend and the bar plans to reopen Wednesday, Anderson is worried about what will happen to sector workers when federal and provincial benefits for COVID-19 end.

The Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit, which pays $500 per week to those unable to work because they contracted the virus, ends May 7.

A similar program through the Manitoba government has an application deadline of April 15.

“If we weren’t working for a business with responsible, good owners, there’s a chance we could have been told to just come to work if you feel good enough to work,” Anderson said.

“If we weren’t working for a business with responsible, good owners, there’s a chance we could have been told to just come to work if you feel good enough to work.” – Callan Anderson, Patent 5 Distillery

Shaun Jeffrey, Manitoba Restaurants & Food Services Association chief executive officer, said a recent survey shows restaurants are still operating at 65 per cent of pre-pandemic staffing levels.

“We contribute this shortage to lack of employee confidence caused by four lockdowns during the pandemic and lack of overall job security,” Jeffrey said in a Monday statement.

Loren Remillard, president and CEO of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, said there is currently a labour shortage in almost every sector. However, the issue is most acute in the hospitality industry.

“It’s something we’ve been hearing, not just in our conversations with members, but in numerous surveys,” Remillard said.

Riley Grae gift shop and studio on Corydon Avenue has also been dealing with a precarious staffing situation. Co-owner Lauren Wittmann, 24, tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday morning.

Lauren (left) with her mom Trish Wittmann at their store, Riley Grae. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Riley Grae has been able to remain open, operating on a skeleton crew of a retail associate and Wittmann’s mother/business partner.

“We’ve been kind of nervous,” Wittmann said, adding she has been providing rapid antigen tests to her sales associate.

“The amount of people that I know, personally, who are contracting COVID right since everything started opening up again is a bit alarming.”

Wittmann said, to her knowledge, Riley Grae is not available for further provincial or federal funding support. For this reason, and others, Wittmann is crossing her fingers her mother and sales associate continue to test negative.

fpcity@freepress.mb.ca

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Brock Coutts, co-owner of Patent 5 Distillery, with his still in Winnipeg. Much of the interior decor has been repurposed from the old St Regis Hotel and will be opening soon.
JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Brock Coutts, co-owner of Patent 5 Distillery, with his still in Winnipeg. Much of the interior decor has been repurposed from the old St Regis Hotel and will be opening soon.
JESSE BOILY / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Riley Grae, a shop on Corydon, displays a sign of its closure due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
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