'It's a new world:' Businesses begin to reopen in Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan physiotherapists, dentists and optometrists have begun to open their businesses as part of a plan to restart the provincial economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Physiotherapists, dentists begin to open their practices as part of provincial plan

Physiotherapist Brian Thompson is making sure protocols are in place when his practice reopens on Monday. (Don Somers/CBC)

Before he opened the doors of his Saskatoon physiotherapy and chiropractic clinic on Monday, Brian Thompson said it won't be business as usual. 

He is one of a handful of Saskatchewan business owners able to reopen his doors that were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We're going to probably just try a 25 per cent capacity opening today, just to make sure our protocols are in place," he said. 

"Making sure our staff are trained properly, and making sure the plans we've put in place are going to be effective."

First day of reopening plan

Monday was the first day in the province's Re-Open Saskatchewan plan, a five-phase project to bring the provincial economy back online.

Phase 1 of the plan allowed medical services, including dentistry, optometry, physical therapy, opticians, podiatry, occupational therapy and chiropractic offices to reopen.

Low-risk outdoor activities, like boating and fishing, are also allowed starting Monday.

Thompson said much of the first day would be dedicated to familiarizing staff with new COVID-19 protocols, including physical distancing, cleaning schedules and handwashing.

He planned to talk to his patients as well, to make sure they're doing their best to not spread the illness.

"It's a new world," he said.

"It's going to be a new way of doing things for some time."

Cautious optimism

However, not everyone was champing at the bit to reopen.

Physiotherapist Bruce Craven plans to reopen his clinic on Wednesday. 

"We want to ensure everything's in place to ensure the safety of our staff, clients, their families and our community," he said.

In this file photo, Canadian team moguls skier Maia Schwinghammer works out with physiotherapist Bruce Craven at his Saskatoon clinic. (Jason Warick/CBC)

While he's been busy consulting with clients online for the past several weeks, Craven said it will be nice to see people in person again.

He said his staff intends to see how things go for the first few days at reduced capacity, then decide when to increase.

He said it took a lot of searching, but they've found all the personal protective gear they need. Fellow physiotherapists and health professionals have been helpful as well. They've had regular meetings to share ideas.

"It just shows that kindness is the commodity of the world," Craven said.

Online reservations for campgrounds were also set to begin Monday. Campsites won't be open until June 1.

The reopening plan doesn't apply to the communities of La Loche and Lloydminster, which are both suffering COVID-19 outbreaks.

Phase 2 of the reopening plan is scheduled to start May 19, with businesses like clothing stores, hair salons and pawnshops able to open. Premier Scott Moe has said that any dates set out can change at any time.

Phases 3-5 do not yet have dates. Businesses like gyms and child-care centres are in Phase 3. Restaurants can also open then at 50 per cent capacity. Phase 4 includes businesses like bingo halls and casinos. Phase 5 is the lifting of long-term restrictions.

Busy office

Meanwhile, the phone in Dr. Dorothy Barrie's optometry clinic is ringing off the hook.

The office has been deluged with calls from patients asking for eye exams that were delayed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We feel really good about that," she said. "You never know when you open your doors what it will be like."

Barrie has been busy preparing for opening day, making sure strict handwashing and cleanliness protocols are in place.

"To have a program where you're sanitizing every single surface that the patient touches as they come in, that's different." she said. "It's the absolute fear of, here's a disease that can kill, possibly."

All of her staff are wearing masks, and try to limit contact with each other, she added.

"You do the very best you can," she said.  "You mitigate every risk you can and you do your best work and that's it." 

Mixed emotions

Alison Matsyk, owner and physiotherapist at Stapleford Health and Rehab Centre, closed her business officially on March 20. All of her 35 staff were laid off from two clinics in Regina and Weyburn.

She said she was scared then because she had no idea when she would be able to open up again. Now that the time has come, she said there are mixed emotions.

Matsyk said she is glad to be able to provide her service again. February and March is a time when a lot of people have falls due to ice and the thaw-freeze cycle. She said those people, plus others who had recent surgeries, were falling through the cracks, so she and some of her colleagues had started doing some sessions via video chat.

"It's very apparent that there is a huge need that's getting missed," Matsyk said. 

"[I] definitely feel excited to help more of those people and a lot of those people definitely need help in person rather than just over the video."

'What's our risk?'

Despite this, there is some trepidation too. 

"The nervousness part comes with, 'What's it going to be like? What's our risk?'" she said. 

"I have to think about the staff and I have to think about all the clients that walk in the door. It's a little bit of a big burden to hold on to to ... know that you're responsible for that many people and the safety of that many people."

Matsyk's clinics are undergoing a lot of change to prepare for seeing people in person again. Plexiglas has been installed at the front desks, the waiting room has been re-arranged, and they're doing other work to minimize the amount of time people spend at the front desk. The clinics will be emailing receipts, taking payment online and having staff book the next appointment during the session rather than have people come back to the desk after to re-book.

Personal protective equipment will also be required for staff and they're asking the public to wear their own masks when they come in. If they don't have them, one will be provided. 

Not all the staff will be back to work, and some staff will be coming back just part-time for now. 

"It's definitely the new normal that everybody's talking about," she said. "I think it'll be interesting to see how this first week goes."

With files from Morgan Modjeski, Bonnie Allen and David Shield

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