Alberta Health Services (AHS) has issued two orders of non-compliance against Revolution Boutique in St. Albert for not following COVID-19 health restrictions.
An inspector with AHS visited the clothing store and found the business was in contravention of seven COVID-19 health orders "which are or may become injurious or dangerous to the public health or which might hinder in any manner the prevention or suppression of disease."
The inspector issued a work order to Revolution Boutique owner Brad Leyden on Feb. 12 that detailed which restrictions the business was not following and included an immediate order to put those measures in place.
Employee screening for COVID-19 symptoms was not being carried out and employees were seen not wearing masks, according to AHS. There was no barrier in place at the cash register to protect staff or customers, and the business had no signage regarding COVID-19 precautions.
There was no disinfectant on site for enhanced cleaning of high-touch surfaces. Hand sanitizer was seen in the clothing store, but AHS said it could not confirm what type of hand sanitizer it was. When asked, no rapid respond plan or operation plan was available to explain staff screening, physical distancing, enhanced cleaning or use of staff amenities.
On Feb. 19, an AHS inspector did a follow-up inspection at Revolution Boutique.
"They noted some progress, but not full compliance," wrote Kerry Williamson, AHS spokesperson, in an email to the Gazette.
"AHS is considering next steps, and is working closely with RCMP."
Const. MJ Burroughs with St. Albert RCMP said they can be called to assist AHS when businesses are not complying with orders, and work in consultation with the province to make sure businesses understand the requirements. To date, no fines have been issued to the business.
Those in violation may be subject to tickets of $1,000 per occurrence, according to the provincial government. If the case goes to court, violators could see fines of up to $100,000 for a first offence and up to $500,000 for a subsequent offence for more serious violations.
In a prepared statement to the Gazette, Leyden said the business takes "the safety of our staff and clients very seriously."
"Our enhanced COVID protocol includes all staff members must wear shields, have hand sanitizers available, changeroom, sales counters and all other high-touch surfaces are regularly disinfected, and all clothing is steamed before going back on the floor," Leyden said.
"Furthermore, we have requested full disclosure from AHS with respect to their recommendations, prior to implementing. To date, we have not received any disclosure."
Leyden told the Gazette the AHS inspector showed up unannounced instead of setting up an appointment so business owners could address issues. While staff do not wear face masks, they do wear clear face shields, he said.
"The order states my staff don't wear masks, but my staff wear face shields. AHS doesn't approve of that, but AHS doesn't have any jurisdiction on my property," he said.
"We feel like that is our best option. I don't wear a mask, I don't want my staff wearing a mask for eight hours a day. I think we're starting to see a lot of personal protective equipment people come forward to say wearing a mask for 10 hours a day isn't good for your health."
According to the World Health Organization, wearing a medical mask can be uncomfortable after prolonged periods of time, and disposable masks should be replaced once damp and not reused. "However, it does not lead to CO2 intoxication or oxygen deficiency," the organization notes.
Another study published by the Association of Otolaryngologists of India found health workers who wore surgical masks for at least four hours a day reported difficulty breathing on exertion, discomfort and excessive sweating around the mouth.
However, masks have also been found to help cut down the spread of COVID-19.
By requesting full disclosure from the province, Leyden said he wants to see data and research that supports the validity of the public health orders.
"You can't come into my business and tell me to do something without some sort of justification as to why we need to do it. Show me the science, show me the data, show me the research that AHS has done or that they're referring to," he said.
A June 2020 study published in The Lancet found a person’s risk of getting or transmitting COVID-19 and similar viruses is about three per cent if they wear a mask and 17 per cent if they do not – a roughly 80-per-cent reduction. The study noted this result was based on low-certainty evidence, and masks alone would not prevent transmission.
When asked if he felt comfortable keeping the store open knowing the business was not in full compliance, Leyden said he was "100 per cent comfortable."
"We have a COVID protocol, and we keep our customers safe."