Nfld. & Labrador

Some N.L. businesses charging a COVID-19 service fee as province reopens

As COVID-19 restrictions begin to relax around Newfoundland and Labrador people might start to notice a new fee tacked on to some of their bills: a COVID-19 surcharge.

A number of businesses say they can't afford the increase in PPE and other COVID-19 related costs

Some businesses have decided to implement a service fee to offset the cost of PPE and other COVID-19 related costs. (Laszlo Balogh/Getty Images)

As COVID-19 restrictions begin to relax around Newfoundland and Labrador, people might start to notice a new fee tacked on to some of their bills: a COVID-19 surcharge.

The fee came as a surprise to Jackie Hartley when she booked an appointment at her physiotherapy clinic after suffering a back injury due to a car crash. She says the business was charging a $3 COVID-19 service fee.

"I didn't understand it and said, 'no, cancel my appointment,'" said Hartley, who normally visits twice a week.

"Not everyone can afford 24 extra dollars a month when they are on a fixed income."

Hartley said she is also wondering why some businesses are charging extra but others aren't.

"They just have to realize … everyone was off, everyone is trying to catch up ... and to come up with this extra could be a little hard."

Some say fee needed

That is the same reason the executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Dental Association says some businesses, like dental offices, might have to charge extra. 

"They have been closed for 12 weeks ... and they too are struggling and trying to keep their office open and provide the service that is much needed by the public," said Anthony Patey. 

Patey said the association is not recommending charging a COVID-19 service fee, but is not discouraging it either.

"Some dental offices are looking and saying with all this new [personal protective equipment] and filtration systems and things of that nature that they have needed to put in their offices to meet the standard necessary, there has been a significant cost," he said. 

The cost of protective equipment has gone up in recent weeks as the demand has grown, he added.

It was three months at home not knowing when we were going to open, if we could open, leasing companies calling you looking for rent when you were just living off of CERB.- Krista Tucker

Proactive Wellness and Prevention has decided to charge its rehabilitation patients $3 an appointment to try to offset some of those increased costs for protective equipment and infrastructure projects like Plexiglas installation.

The company also hired a safety advisor, who will oversee the cleanliness of the office and keep up to date with safety guidelines.

"If we are going to still run our clinics the way we need to run our clinics, and provide the service and level of quality of care that Proactive is known for, this is a necessary cost," said Robbie Lee, the company's marketing and public relations co-ordinator.

Lee said clients are informed about the new fee in advance, and most people have been understanding. He also hopes it won't have to last much longer.

"It's week to week at this point.… We are still reviewing it," he said. "When it hits Level 2, maybe something will be rolled back and we won't have to use as much [equipment]."

Anthony Patey, executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Dental Association, says some businesses are struggling after so many months without seeing patients. (CBC)

Understanding clients

Beverley Amah says she understood being charged an extra $10 for her son's dentist's appointment. 

She said it's worth the extra money to know that the proper safety protocols are in place, as her son told her the dentist and hygienist were fully decked out in face shields and gowns.

"I think it is justified that way," said Amah. 

"I think people are just maybe surprised that they are going to get charged something extra for PPE.… I think people have to be reasonable about it."

Amah said some businesses can't afford it after weeks of being off, and employees shouldn't be expected to pay for it so it's up to the clients to keep everyone safe.

Businesses left increasing cost of services

The owner of X-Static Hair Salon said they really had no choice but to modestly increase the cost of their services after the past few months. 

Krista Tucker said it's an expensive and scary time for businesses to operate.

"It was three months at home not knowing when we were going to open, if we could open, leasing companies calling you looking for rent when you were just living off of CERB," said Tucker.

Proactive Wellness and Prevention is charging their rehabilitation clients $3 per visit. (Google Maps)

She said she has not raised the prices at her salon for the past five years but with an increase in taxes, electricity fees, rent and now the additional cost of protective equipment and other COVID-19 modifications she's had to make to her business, it's become too much. 

Tucker is asking for the public's support to try to buy local.

"Just buying an extra product would help your stylist and salon thrive. It's the littlest things right now that can help Newfoundland stay strong in this."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Meg Roberts is a video journalist with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, based in St. John's. Email her at meg.roberts@cbc.ca.

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