'They sprung this on us': Massage therapists say clearer guidelines needed for COVID-19 reopening

Unlike Saskatchewan, Manitoba has chosen to include massage therapy and acupuncture — two unregulated services — in its first round of reopenings. But without a regulatory body, massage therapists say they're left with many questions about how to safely begin operating again.

Unlike Saskatchewan, Manitoba has included massage therapy in its first round of reopenings

As an unregulated service without a governing body, massage therapists say the provincial government hasn't consulted with them about reopening during COVID-19. (Robert Short/CBC)

Massage therapists in Manitoba say the province is not providing clear enough guidelines for how they should follow new COVID-19 safety rules, after they learned this week they'd be allowed to reopen in a matter of days.

"We were surprised," said Tricia Weidenbacher, executive director of the Massage Therapy Association of Manitoba. "They sprung this on us."

"We anticipated something similar to Saskatchewan. They've got a few more weeks to prepare," she said.

Unlike Saskatchewan, Manitoba has chosen to include massage therapy and acupuncture — two unregulated services— in its first round of reopenings starting Monday. But without a regulatory body to guide them, massage therapists say they're left with many questions about how to safely begin operating again.

The association said it's been trying for weeks to get more clarification from the Manitoba government about what a return to work would look like, and has asked to be involved in the process of establishing the new rules. Weidenbacher said her organization never heard back from provincial officials.

When asked about their concerns, a spokesperson for Shared Health said the province has been working with the business community, especially those with a governing body.

Individual businesses or professions that don't have a governing body should seek clarification on the rules through, the spokesperson said.

Weidenbacher said unlike dentists, optometrists, physiotherapists, chiropractors and podiatrists, who have their own regulatory bodies, massage therapists still do not, something her organization has been advocating for in Manitoba for decades.

"Because we do not have that regulatory college, the government does not automatically contact us to consult, or even to provide information in advance," she said.

Massage therapy requires more contact

Weidenbacher said massage therapists have questions about how to properly practice physical distancing and sanitation, given the type of work they're doing.

"We are considerably different from physiotherapists and chiropractors," she said, pointing to the length of time a massage therapist spends in close physical contact with a client.

"Can we just take those guidelines that are meant for medical clinics, and can we just assume that they apply to us?"

Massage therapists are also considering how they'll get personal protective equipment in time.

"How do you get your hands on things that the general public is having a hard time getting their hands on?" she said.

"Getting masks, gloves, hand sanitizers and disinfectants is challenging … to get that between now and May 4, for a lot of people, that's not going to happen," she said.

She said the public can be assured that members of the Massage Therapy Association who open on May 4 will be ready to safely treat them. Clients should be patient if clinics needs more time to get things set up, she said.

"It is definitely mixed emotions," Weidenbacher said.

"There are [massage therapists] who are very excited. They're getting constant calls from patients already wanting to book appointments for next week already," she said.

"We have people who are concerned, they're wondering if it's too soon. Why would we not have any time to really prepare for this?"


Marina von Stackelberg is a senior reporter currently working for CBC's Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. She previously worked as a reporter and host in Winnipeg, with earlier stints in Halifax and Sudbury. Her stories regularly appear across the country on CBC Radio and CBC News Network. Connect with her by email at or on social media @CBCMarina.


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