Manitoba’s medical providers hope they can reopen, safely and slowly, in coming weeks

If you’ve got a toothache, chances are you haven’t been able to see your dentist.

For the last month in Manitoba, dental care, like many other medical services, including optometry and physiotherapy, have been for emergencies only.

On Thursday, Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, said changes in provincial COVID-19 rules will be brought in slowly as Manitoba models a reopening plan similar to the one unveiled in Saskatchewan this week.

Manitoba dentists are hoping a potential reintroduction of service would be slow and careful, starting with more serious needs like broken teeth or serious toothaches.

“There are certainly some emergent cases out there that are starting to backlog a little bit. And we’re certainly looking forward to trying to manage some of those people a little bit more in person rather than just with medication,” said Marc Mollot, president of the Manitoba Dental Association.

Mollot said dentists will follow the recommendations set out by Manitoba’s public health officials, and are in discussion with the province to get protective equipment for dentists, once the supply shortages begin to ease up.

Many dentists donated their supplies to help front-line workers, he said.

Meanwhile, physiotherapists in the hospital setting have been able to continue urgent work with the use of personal protective equipment, said Jim Hayes, executive director of the Physiotherapy Association of Manitoba.

But except for some telemedicine treatment, the majority of the province’s physiotherapists have not been able to provide regular services.

“We know there is a real need in terms of maintaining the recovery from illness, and accident, and surgery,” he said.

The province’s massage therapists also want to get back to work, and have clients anxious to see them too, especially for those with conditions like multiple sclerosis, Parkinsons, chronic pain or injuries.

“They physically cannot function without their regular massage therapy treatments,” said Tricia Weidenbacher, executive director of the Massage Therapy Association of Manitoba.

“So while it may not seem like an essential service, it certainly is essential to a great many Manitobans who rely on massage therapy to maintain wellness, mobility, and their just overall well-being.”

Weidenbacher said massage therapists want the province to provide them with safety guidelines when they are able to practise again.

Easing restrictions is a balance, according to Cynthia Carr, a Winnipeg-based epidemiologist.

“Although this is a very important public health event, controlling an infectious disease, there are many people that are impacted by the gaps in access to care. And we know that early intervention in every area saves lives,” Carr said.

The first medical services to reopen will be ones where health officials have the most confidence that both staff and patients are safe, she said.

It’s also essential health officials are able to track whether cases begin popping up at medical locations that have reopened, she said.

“They probably feel that within those environments they have good capacity to track what is going on … [that] more cases … can be tracked back to visiting some of those health-care areas,” she said.

The province’s chief medical officer of health said he’s watching Saskatchewan, but a reopening in Manitoba wouldn’t be tied to a specific date or time, and would be one that’s tailored to what is best for this province.

“Our plans are open to revision. It’s going to depend on the numbers,” Dr. Brent Roussin said.

CBC Manitoba’s Marina von Stackelberg reports on the potential reopening of services that require close contact, such as dentistry, massage therapy and optometry. 2:10

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