Service providers who depend on close contact are adapting to the pandemic | News

On March 17, 2020, the Rhode Island Department of Health notified Dr. Neal Rogol that he, like countless other small business owners in the state, was to close. “It was an enforced vacation that wasn’t a vacation,” said Rogol, a family dentist whose office is at 24 Salt Pond Road in South Kingstown.

Dentistry has always been at the forefront of infection control, according to Rogol. Viruses that have beset civilization in recent decades have forced medical professionals to wear more personal protective equipment – ​​such as gloves, scrubs or some other barrier to cover clothing and masks, it has therefore felt the changes that COVID-19 would herald. When her practice reopened in late May 2020, the Rhode Island Dental Association asked all dentists to wear “a heavier filtration mask,” and she distributed them to dentists for emergency use.

“The dental association really came to bat,” Rogol said. “The association has distributed hand sanitizers for all offices, a number of high filtration masks and disposable gowns. We have implemented the use of N95 masks, which have the highest possible filtration rate. Rogol also procured face shields because, he explained, “when you use drills, you create aerosols, and the coronavirus spreads through aerosols or droplets.”

There were also equipment that dentists were instructed not to use, such as the ultrasonic cleaner, which is used to clean heavy deposits of hardened tartar, known in his profession as “tartar”. These machines also produce aerosols. Rogol hygienists had to perform ‘manual descaling’ until restrictions were eased; they became more knowledgeable about the virus and people were vaccinated. “At one point, many offices weren’t even doing any cleaning,” Rogol said. “We weren’t even polishing.”

Gradually, the dentists started polishing and started using the ultrasonic cleaner again when the Centers for Disease Control gave them permission to “do whatever we wanted to do,” according to Rogol. Currently, Rogol’s office is a bulwark against the disease. All surfaces are cleaned with an antiviral barrier based on hydrogen peroxide. At a cost of around $5,000, Rogol purchased two air filtration machines, which use pure active technology, and three “extra-oral evacuation” (outside of the mouth) machines that evacuate aerosols and contain three layers of filtration.

Rising inflation and the supply chain crisis have made N95 masks both more expensive and difficult to buy. “Hospitals told their staff they had to use the same masks over and over again, but I didn’t want to, so I stockpiled as many as I could.” Initially, he also took the advice to put masks in sealed Tupperware containers until masks became more readily available. The gloves, which Rogol said once cost $6.99 a box, have soared to $24.99 a box. They came back at a reasonable price of $8.99 a box, but the upfront expense was significant.

Rogol also took other precautions, including limiting the number of patients who could sit in the waiting room. At one point, some of his patients had the option of waiting in their car to be called in turn. “We still require all patients to wear masks in the office until they sit in the chair. It’s very controversial because the state lifted the restrictions, but in a health care setting, masks are appropriate,” Rogol said. “We screen all staff and take the temperature of all patients when they arrive. We make sure they are healthy and have not knowingly been exposed to anyone with a virus.”

Part of this screening process involves patients filling out a COVID questionnaire, and all patients, prior to treatment, must rinse their mouth with hydrogen peroxide solution. “We try to protect everyone, and patients understand and appreciate that.”

Rogol says things may never be the same as before the pandemic.

“I don’t know if it will be a day like before,” he said. “I still have patients who don’t come if they don’t feel any discomfort or pain. The phobia of the virus sometimes outweighs the need for preventive care. Dental care is linked to overall good health, so maintaining good health is more important than ever.

Stephanie White, owner of Optimal Wellness Therapeutic Massage at 24 Salt Pond Road, has been a massage therapist for 10 years, and the trials and tribulations of being a small business owner have never been more pronounced than they have been. been the last two. In March 2020, as COVID-19 spread rapidly, she was forced to shut down her business for four months, which put her and her family in dire economic straits.

She had no income for a few weeks until she became eligible for pandemic unemployment insurance, which she estimated covered about 70% of the income she was receiving at the time. pre-COVID. In the meantime, White said: “I still had overhead and we had to give up a lot of bills at home. One was the mortgage payment. You spend 10 years building a business, and then all of a sudden…”

White’s business expenses were also piling up. “The majority of people who work in this industry (massage therapy) are independent contractors, so we were not eligible to receive PPE (personal protective equipment) as (Internal Revenue Service form) 1099 employees. ” White explained. When the Rhode Island Department of Health informed White on the last day of May 2020 that it could reopen in June, she and her staff were unprepared. “We couldn’t open right away because we had to buy the things we needed. We had to buy all kinds of air filters, and we had to follow all kinds of cleaning protocols and have different types of equipment to be compliant,” White explained.

She was able to reopen Optimal Wellness on July 1, but she and other therapists have had to get used to the post-COVID adjustments the virus has forced on all sectors of society. “We had to take fewer customers because we needed more time to clean; additionally, we had to screen all of our customers to make sure everyone was healthy and following the rules,” she said. “And laundry is more expensive, cleaners, air filters, all the equipment is more expensive. We now employ professional cleaners instead of doing our own cleaning.

White herself caught COVID in November 2020, but credits her protocols for ensuring that none of her clients reported falling ill.

“Someone in my family tested positive, so I got tested immediately,” White said. “I was at work because I didn’t know I was HIV positive. I called every client I had seen that week, and not a single person got sick, as we followed all the protocols. After that a lot of people didn’t want to come in because I got COVID. It made me feel more comfortable with the precautions I was using because not a single person ended up getting it.

“That was probably the worst thing, telling people they were exposed,” White added. “I called everyone for the week, maybe fifteen people. We followed strict protocols and obviously it paid off.

Stricter protocols and mitigations followed as the Omicron variant began to spread. In October 2021, the Department of Health required anyone licensed with its agency to be vaccinated. Two of its employees refused to comply, so Optimal Wellness has only three massage therapists left.

While the Omicron variant appears to have peaked and Governor Dan McKee has relaxed his masking and vaccination mandates, White is more optimistic about the future. “I think people are more comfortable doing a one-on-one activity rather than being in a large crowd,” she said. “Everyone has done well not to come when they are not feeling well. One week we had 10 cancellations from people feeling unwell or testing positive, but lately we’ve been in a good phase. We have had no cancellations in the past two weeks. The problem is having to pivot with all the different changes. The cost of everything is going up, and you look around and see all these other businesses closing. It’s just exhausting having to keep up. »

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