Large shopping cohorts and a lack of social distancing by some visitors have led the Airdrie Farmers’ Market (AFM) to remind shoppers to abide by COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
On July 27, a lengthy Facebook post was published on AFM's page, outlining observations and concerns the market has received from some visitors about a lack of consideration for new rules put in place at the beginning of the weekly market's season.
“Every week we have noticed a number of very large families and groups coming to the market,” the post said. “We understand that festivals, events, vacations and so many other summer outings you are used to have been cancelled, but we need to ask you to continue to respect that we are still in a pandemic and that COVID numbers are once again increasing.”
The post went on to remind shoppers that AFM is required to abide by Alberta Health Services’ (AHS) public health orders, which include social distancing, hand sanitization stations, directional flow and a limit of 200 shoppers at a time.
“I just thought [the post] would be a good refresher because I had been seeing an awful lot of crowding,” said Candice Kolson, AFM's manager.
“Not just a mom, a dad and their four kids, [but] a mom, a dad, four teenagers, aunts and uncles – big groups meeting at the market to go through the market together.”
Although the number of vendors at the market fluctuates each week, Kolson said the average has been more than 60 since it opened for the 2020 season in early June. As for shoppers, more than 1,800 people typically visit the market each week, with roughly 200 allowed in at a time.
“I work very closely with our local health inspector and they reiterate that we can’t control human behaviour, so it’s difficult to police every single person at the market to make sure they’re giving their neighbour six feet,” Kolson said.
Since the Facebook post was published, Kolson said she's noticed more visitors wearing masks, which she attributes to the mask bylaw in Calgary that went into effect Aug. 1.
"I would say the Calgary bylaw is starting to have peripheral effects out here in Airdrie, even though in the Calgary bylaw, people don’t have to wear masks in open public outdoor spaces," she said.
As of Aug. 10, Kolson said AFM does not have a mandatory mask policy in place and would like to keep it that way. However, in situations where social distancing is not possible, she said shoppers should be wearing masks.
“Because it’s an outdoor market and it does get really hot, we don’t want to make a mask [policy] mandatory, though AHS has pushed for all vendors to be wearing masks,” she said.
“We just really want the public to be aware that they’re not the only ones on-site – there could be immune-compromised people standing right next to them, or someone with severe asthma who may not be able to wear a mask in the heat outside. So, please keep six feet of distance or else we’ll have to look at mandatory masks.”
AFM is held every Wednesday afternoon from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Plainsmen Arena parking lot. To accommodate shoppers over the age of 60 – the demographic AHS has deemed most at-risk for COVID-19 – Kolson said AFM has set aside the first half-hour as a designated senior’s shopping time. She added the time slot is not meant for convenience but to keep the most vulnerable members of the population safe.
“We designed it that way so people who felt they’re in the high-risk group can come and go quickly before the general public comes in,” she said. “What we’ve been finding is that we’re clicking through probably 270 seniors in that half an hour, and they’re coming and going quickly.”