Encouragements and endorsements are failing to convince Ucluelet’s tourists to follow COVID-19 protocols, leading local businesses to start requiring customers to wear masks in order to shop.
The Ucluelet Co-op announced on Saturday that masks will be mandatory to enter the store, effective Aug. 24.
“As the number of positive cases increases across Western Canada, we want to take proactive steps to protect our team members and our customers,” the announcement read, in part. “This is one simple step each of us can take to help prioritize health and safety for ourselves and those around us.”
The Ucluelet General Store, formerly known as Murray’s Grocery, followed suit through an announcement on social media.
“Effective immediately, we require masks to enter the store. We will also be more strict with our existing protocols of maximum occupancy, social distancing, and hand sanitizing,” the post reads. “Locals, you are amazing and we really appreciate you. Doing our part to keep you safe while serving our visitors.”
Ucluelet mayor Mayco Noel told the Westerly News on Sunday that he was happy to see businesses stepping up to keep the community safe.
“I love it. I think they’re taking a wonderful leadership role in the community,” he said. “It goes right across all the sectors of our community and our region that we’re seeing people that don’t [care] about what’s going on. The fact is, something needs to be said and something needs to be done and the business community is doing it.”
Noel and the district began promoting mask-wearing at the beginning of August, but Noel said a very visible minority of the town’s tourists are “blatantly” ignoring the COVID-19 protocols being recommended by the district and the province.
“The demographic that’s here enjoying our region are not necessarily the type that seem to follow rules or strong suggestions so, unfortunately, we’re going to have to decide for them whether they should wear the mask,” he said.
He added that disregard is being seen across other sectors of the region, including an abundance of campers setting up on backroads and not respecting their surroundings as well as vessel operators ignoring ‘No wake zones.’
“It’s a different type of person coming to the region, whether they’re going into the co-op without a mask or flying through our harbour to go fishing with no regard for the sign that says ‘7 Knots,’ unfortunately we have to step up our game a bit…It’s a younger demographic and they’re treating our backyard completely with disregard,” he said.
“I want everybody to know that we all see the level of discomfort that a small percentage of the visitors to the area are creating and we’re really trying to make sure our messaging targets that group. I do not want to have messaging that generally blankets tourists coming to the region as all being blackballed or painted with the same brush because that would be inappropriate. I really want to make sure that the messaging from myself, the [COVID-19] task force and council is directed to the audience that we need to direct it to…A lot of it is just treating our backyard with a bit more respect than what we’re seeing. Be respectful, I don’t think that’s a tall ask.”
He said the district has not determined whether to implement any type of community-wide mask bylaw.
When you start doing community wide mandates, there’s going to be peoples’ expectations to police it,” he said. “You definitely could see more steps. We’re satisfied with the steps that we’ve done to date and we’ll continue to monitor over the coming weeks.”
He added that while the summer season is winding down, he expects to see a robust weekend tourist season throughout the fall and winter.
“We are going to be a weekend destination and we’re still going to have people coming here to enjoy our region,” he said.
“I still feel that we’re in a very good state here with where our community is. We can always do better and we’re trying to take better steps to protect the residents so we can enjoy our lovely town that we call Ukee.”