How store manager is keeping his staff safe through Omicron storm

From the front line: N95 respirators are not mandated for retail workers but Rudi Mogl was determined to go the extra mile

How store manager is keeping his staff safe through Omicron storm

Kingston. Ontario, was initially hit hard during the early surge of the Omicron variant.

“The numbers just went up, it was unbelievable,” says Rudi Mogl. “It was a lot of cases and everybody was scared.”

But compared to the early days of the pandemic, Mogl says people weren’t necessarily panicked but rather shocked.

The surge also didn’t seem to affect shoppers – “before Christmas, there was quite a bit of traffic, retail business was brisk. It wasn’t really that dramatic,” says Mogl. “I really think that having so many people vaccinated is making a difference.”

Mogl runs Tara Natural Foods, a health food store in downtown Kingston, ON. Since the outset of Covid, Mogl has put into place a number of measures in his store to ensure the safety of his workers. This big difference this time round is that Mogl is encouraging workers to wear – and has supplied – N95 and KN95 respirators.

“We tried to get people away from the cloth masks, because we know how much better the [N95] masks protect people.”

Though the use of N95 respirators is not yet mandated by public health regulators for retail workers, a controversial decision highlighted in a recent CBC report, this doesn’t mean that some retailers aren’t going that extra mile.

In optimal conditions, N95 and KN95 respirators filter out over 95 per cent of microscopic particles from the air. In the early days of the pandemic, these masks were typically reserved for health care workers. However, as the pandemic progresses and frontline workers remain at risk, it makes sense to extend their use.

And more and more Ontarians seem to be shifting toward the N95 and KN95 masks because they are becoming difficult to get a hold of. “We started early,” says Mogl. “And my wife really helped, we were lucky to actually find some at Lowe’s – they actually had them on sale! So we bought as many as we could, we had about 20 masks per staff.”

These masks can be worn for up to 40 hours, so Mogl says “we’re covered, we have enough masks for now". It’s not mandatory, “but we certainly encourage all the people that are in close contact with customers to wear them".

Aside from better masks, Mogl has also limited the amount of customers (as is required), and ensured that the air cleaners are fully working.

“But that was it, and we didn’t lose any staff. Business is, well, pretty normal,” he says. He does mention that there has been some supply issues – which is to be expected during a pandemic – but that the majority of products are normally stocked.

Mogl says that workers are a bit more confident this time around, “everyone is paying attention and knows what to do and what not to do – and it just builds confidence.”

Though the situation is obviously not optimal, Mogl says that it’s manageable. “I think the best way to describe it is that we’re coping. But I’ll be glad when it’s over.”