Eyes, back and feet: What to expect as non-essential medical services return to Manitoba

Optometrists, podiatrists, physiotherapists and chiropractors say they are ready to offer non-emergency services on May 4, under new safety guidelines set out by the province aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19.

Optometrists, physiotherapists, chiropractors and podiatrists can resume regular care Monday

It's been six weeks since regulated health professionals— including optometrists, dentists, physiotherapists, chiropractors, and podiatrists— were told they could only provide urgent or emergency care. On May 4, the province is allowing them to reopen, but with strict safety guidelines. (Ashley Burke/CBC )

Medical providers in Manitoba say they're ready to start offering non-emergency services again on May 4, as provincial safety guidelines aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19 begin to relax.

For the first time in six weeks, regulated health professionals — including dentists, optometrists, physiotherapists, chiropractors, and podiatrists — are allowed to restart regular service, but they must follow new safety rules.

If you're going to get your eyes checked, for example, "it will look different than what you would normally experience in your regular eye exam," said Dr. Tanya Dillon, president of the Manitoba Association of Optometrists.

Dillon said optometrists will resume most procedures on Monday, including eye exams and consultations on eyewear.

But optometrists and technicians will now take safety precautions like wearing a face mask and eye protection, and practising physical distancing.

Expect appointment times to be spaced out so fewer people are in the office, and to allow for more thorough disinfecting of all areas.

"As optometrists, we are typically already doing a high level disinfection of instruments and surrounding areas. [Now] there will be an increased vigilance, especially in common areas and waiting areas," Dillon said.

Dillon said she already has a growing list of people waiting to get into her own office.

"In general, like a lot of other services, be patient," she said.

"We are putting a lot of safety protections in place for the staff [and] for the patients. We want to make sure that we have enough time to have all of these safety precautions put in place."

Physiotherapy limited by PPE requirements

If you're looking to see your physiotherapist, only clinics with enough personal protective equipment will be able to provide appointments next week, according to Jim Hayes, executive director of the Manitoba Physiotherapy Association.

That's in part because physiotherapists are being told they must wear masks, and in some cases gloves and eye protection too.

Unlike some other medical services, a physiotherapist needs to be in close contact with their patient for more than 10 minutes. Under the new rules, that requires a higher level of personal protective equipment, Hayes said.

Unlike some other medical services, a physiotherapist is required to be close to their patient for more than 10 minutes, which will require a higher level of personal protective equipment. That will limit the service physiotherapists can start offering May 4. (edwardolive/Shutterstock )

"There will be some limitations. They may have to do what they can with some of the supplies they have. So it's going to be a little uneven in the initial start," he said.

"We are hopeful that that will get better as time goes on, but it will influence the extent to which we can safely open on Monday," Hayes said.

Physiotherapists are in talks with the province to obtain more supplies, Hayes said, especially as hip and knee surgeries restart — procedures after which patients require significant physiotherapy.

Hayes recommends you contact your clinic to see if they're offering appointments.

Chiropractic, podiatry set to reopen

Manitoba's chiropractors said they plan to begin offering full chiropractic care on Monday.

"Our doctors of chiropractic have been diligently adhering to health orders throughout the pandemic and are equally committed to following the new safety restrictions," wrote Karen Woloschuk, executive director of the Manitoba Chiropractors Association, in an email to CBC News.

The province's 23 podiatrists will also be back to work, providing everything from foot wound care to orthotic fittings, said Dr. Sujeet Gupta, president of the Manitoba Podiatry Association.

"All the podiatry clinics are doing their own self-screening on patients, limiting the amount of patients we are seeing to ensure social distancing," Gupta said, adding that rooms will be thoroughly sanitized between appointments.

Podiatrists also plan to wear personal protective equipment, and Gupta said patients should be bringing in their own. However, he said clinics may be able to provide a mask if a patient does not have their own, depending on availability. 

The Manitoba Dental Association, meanwhile, has said its members will initially be focused on urgent issues as they start taking appointments again, and simpler procedures like cleanings will have to wait for now.


Marina von Stackelberg is a CBC reporter and host based in Winnipeg. She's reported nationally in Toronto and on Parliament Hill, with previous 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.

With files from Austin Grabish


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