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  • Writer's pictureHunter Cresswell

Orange you glad we’re not red?

Hills COVID alert level downgraded

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Gatineau Hills businesses hard in different ways.

The bouldering and fitness gym in Wakefield has been closed more than it’s been open since it first opened its doors in 2019, and Nikosi Bistro Pub, also in Wakefield, had to dump 16 kegs worth of beer, which it wasn’t allowed to sell, down the drain.

Klimat manager Alex Fouquet hangs out in the Wakefield gym before its grand reopening on Feb. 22. The Low Down reached out to a mix of Gatineau Hills businesses to check in on operations since the Outaouais was downgraded from a red COVID-19 alert level to orange on Feb. 22. Hunter Cresswell photo
Klimat manager Alex Fouquet hangs out in the Wakefield gym before its grand reopening on Feb. 22. The Low Down reached out to a mix of Gatineau Hills businesses to check in on operations since the Outaouais was downgraded from a red COVID-19 alert level to orange on Feb. 22. Hunter Cresswell photo

Since the province downgraded the Outaouais from a red COVID-19 alert level on Feb. 22, The Low Down reached out to a mix of businesses to check in on their operations which by and large are anything but business as usual under the current constraints.

“The last two shutdowns were pretty brutal,” Nikosi owner Wapokunie Riel-Lachapelle said.

Her bistro pub, popular for its terrace with a view of the river not to mention the bannock bread menu items and duck confit poutine, has been closed since November due to the takeout model not working for her style of restaurant. She said the plan is to reopen on Feb. 26, but will factor in the possibility of another government-mandated shutdown when figuring out staffing and supplying her restaurant with food and beverage. Since having to dump unsold beer, Nikosi will be serving only bottled beer for the time being.

“A lot of people are worried about being told the same day that they have to shut down that night,” Riel-Lachapelle said about her conversations with other business owners.

Following 19 weeks of being closed, Klimat finally welcomed climbers back on Feb. 22. Gym manager Alex Fouquet said he and the gym owners weren’t given any advanced warning that they would be allowed to reopen. They planned to maybe open on March 1, but found out along with the rest of us from a Feb. 16 Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux de l'Outaouais press release that they could reopen on Feb. 22.

“The last week has been super busy. It’s been a marathon,” Fouquet said.

With just six days notice, he, co-owners Jazmine Maisonneuve, Sam Cloutier and Brian Fewster, and a crew of helpers cleaned – from the gym floor to the ceiling – and reset the gym’s climbing walls with about 62 new routes.

The gym had previously shifted to operate during COVID when it opened for about seven weeks in the fall, so signage was already in place and machines were spaced out to allow for social distancing. But changes now include the mask policy and hours.

To comply with the province-ordered curfew – now 9:30 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. since the Hills went orange – the gym is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Fouquet said that climbing and fitness members are being asked to wear their masks at all times, including while climbing, lifting weights or using a weight machine — people on the treadmills, stationary bikes or rowing machines don’t have to wear their masks for now.

“We think it’s safer for the staff and safer for the clients,” Fouquet said. “People are used to it now, I think, keeping their mask on.”

Nearly New president Dawn Bell-Jack said the gently-used clothing, toy and small household item store in Chelsea will have a sale this weekend for the first time since November.

“We weren't’ [having sales] for a while because most of our volunteers are in the high risk category [for catching COVID-19],” she said.

The sale will take place on Feb. 26 from 4 to 7 p.m. and Feb. 27 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Only five people, two workers and three customers, are allowed inside, which is in Grace United Church on Mill Road in Chelsea. Customers will be given a 15 minute window to shop and it’s first-come, first-served.

“This is all new. We’ve never done this before, so we’re testing the waters,” Bell-Jack said.

She said she’s excited to clear some of their stock, which has grown quite a bit during the pandemic, which she guessed has to do with people being at home more and busying themselves with clearing clutter. A donation bin is outside the church and accepts gently used clothes, toys and small household items, but no furniture or electronics. All donations are disinfected and cleaned before being displayed for sale.

In response to questions received, Camp Fortune put out a press release about what will and won’t change now that it’s in an orange zone.

“It is simply too late in the season to get the cafeteria set up and staffed. In addition, there are very strict operating guidelines for food services in the orange. The food truck and outdoor café are working well, so we’ll stick with them,” the release stated, noting later that picnic tables will be added.

MRC prefect Caryl Green said moving to an orange alert will give people a needed bit of breathing room, but advises that people still practice social distancing, don’t travel between regions unnecessarily, wear masks and wash their hands regularly and thoroughly.

“We can’t let our guard down,” she said.

This is especially important given the surfacing of the new COVID-19 variant and the fact that the vaccine hasn’t been fully rolled out, Green added.

“It’s good to have this little breathing room, but remain vigilant and careful.”

Orange zone rules

  • People must not leave their homes between 9:30 p.m. and 5 a.m. for nonessential reasons.

  • Unnecessary travel between regions is not recommended.

  • Indoor and outdoor gatherings are still prohibited unless it’s between two individuals who live alone and only visit each other, an informal caregiver or people offering services, support or labour.

  • All activities in public places are prohibited except funerals, which have a maximum limit of 25 people.

  • Places of worship are open to all with a maximum limit of 25 people.

  • Restaurants can open to in-person dining. Tables can have a maximum of two adults and their children (under 18). Restaurants must keep an attendance register, ask for proof of residence of that region, and deny service to people from outside the region. Reservations are mandatory outside fast food joints.

  • Bars, breweries, taverns, casinos are closed.

  • Libraries can open.

  • Outdoor sports, recreational activities and guided activities are allowed for groups of up to eight people.

  • Indoor sports activities are allowed for only individuals and pairs of people from the same home. Trainers from different households are allowed to be present, but must practice social distancing.

  • Teleworking is still encouraged when possible.

  • Businesses, stores and boutiques can open, but only one shopper per household is recommended in a business at one time.

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