Day 6

From personal protective equipment to Plexiglas, owners plan for reopening businesses safely

When the lockdown began, Ed Cochrane's business adapted by making Plexiglas panels to keep cashiers safe. Now, with businesses eyeing reopening dates, his company is providing acrylic safety panels for other businesses, from dentists to hairstylists.

'It's about helping people stay healthy,' said acrylic safety barrier designer Ed Cochrane

Plexiglas barriers have been installed at all manicure stations at Vibrant Salon and Spa in Fredericton with the intention of maintaining physical distancing once they are allowed to reopen. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Nekky Jamal is trying to imagine what his dental clinic will look like once the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions begin to lift.

While Jamal has taken a few emergency patients who might otherwise have had to go to the ER, his office in Lloydminster, Alta., has essentially been closed since early March.

And while, like his patients, he's eager to return, he wants to do so cautiously — and safely.

"I've been telling my patients that right now you have to think of it like a dimmer switch. Like right now the lights are essentially off," he said.

"And, you know, as our public health officials tell us when it's safe to work on patients again in more of a normal capacity we'll turn that dimmer switch back on."

On Monday, provinces such as Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec will start easing their pandemic restrictions.

If all goes well, Jamal's reopening date is set for May 14. But it will be a gradual return with emergency and urgent cases at the start. 

New safety measures

For those patients, the experience of visiting the dentist will be very different.

"I would say everything is different. It's not a regular dental appointment anymore," said Jamal.

He's had air purifiers installed throughout the office. UV lamps in the vents help keep the air as clean as possible. And that's not the only safety measure.

"We don't have a waiting room anymore. Our waiting room is locked. So if we do have to see someone they wait in their car. They call us to tell us they're here and then we call them when they're ready," he explained. 

The current plan also includes taking every patient's temperature and questioning them about any exposure or symptoms related to COVID-19 — something patients are also asked about over the telephone before visiting the office.

Nekky Jamal is a dentist at the Wayside Dental Centre in Lloydminster, Alta. He says his office is adding extra safety measures — from more PPE to air purifiers — as part their reopening effort. (Amber Elliott Photography)

After donating much of their personal protective equipment (PPE) to local hospitals, Jamal says they're now working to rebuild their stock, which will include an upgrade to N95 masks.

"All of our staff are in gowns and shoe covers and scrub caps and fitted N95 masks and face shields," he said.

The novel coronavirus can be transmitted via fluids from the mouth, so Jamal says they need to be extra cautious and follow all guidelines set by the Alberta Dental Association and College, the regulatory body for dentists in the province.

Increased acrylic safety barriers

Two months ago, Ed Cochrane had never built a single Plexiglas barrier. By the end of April, he told Day 6, he'd manufactured somewhere "in the high 300s or low 400s."

His Fredricton-based company Stortec usually designs fixtures and furniture with functionality in mind. His business clients include pharmacies, convenience stores and liquor and beer stores.

But since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, he's also designing for safety, including building acrylic safety barriers for store counters.

Ed Cochrane, the owner of Stortec, says his company has installed Plexiglas barriers at hundreds of business since the pandemic hit New Brunswick. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

At first, Cochrane and his staff were building barriers for essential services. They have since transitioned to making them for businesses looking to reopen, including hair and esthetics salons.

"At the hair salon we had a similar situation to what we would have at a cash, where they're doing nails and such — manicures," he said.

"We created a vertical divider with feet that will allow it to stand vertical. And then we created an opening that would be suitable to have two hands working with two other hands."

Cochrane is also working on a design for a dentist that includes a cart that would roll over the patient, similar to laptop desk with a clear acrylic top.

The design allows the dentist to access the patient's mouth from each side of the acrylic.

"It's about helping people stay healthy. I don't feel that important that I think I'm saving anybody's life. But, you know, the liquor store is no good if there's no cashier there," he said.

"There's a lot of fear right now in the communities. ... I've had ladies put their hands on their heart and point to the plastic in front of them and say, 'Oh, thank you, thank you.' And you can feel the relief."

The barriers have provided work for Cochrane's company while his other work has halted because of the lockdown. 

He says it's like a bonus on a rainy day.

"Without a doubt, it's given us something to do in the short term."

Written and produced by Laurie Allan. 

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