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Saskatchewan businesses have questions about protection as economy reopens

REGINA — Kara Firman should be able open her Saskatoon hair salon in two weeks, but right now she says she won't.

REGINA — Kara Firman should be able open her Saskatoon hair salon in two weeks, but right now she says she won't.

Under Saskatchewan's relaxed COVID-19 restrictions, personal protective equipment is required if salons, registered massage therapists and acupuncturists want to begin serving customers again on May 19.

But Firman wants more specific guidelines about how to use it.

"I just want to see added actual clear information on (personal protective equipment), because we aren't trained in our industry on doffing, donning, disposal, using this properly," Firman said.

“It’s just very, very, very vague and that’s concerning for our stylists.”

As Saskatchewan starts to relaunch its economy and employers start to open doors, questions are emerging about the supply of personal protective equipment and how to use it.

Health offices were allowed to open in Saskatchewan on Monday, though provincial Health Minister Jim Reiter has said it was clear some wouldn't until they had enough gloves, masks and gowns required for them to see patients.

Saskatchewan said it has a business response team to answer questions from reopening business.

Hair stylists, such as Firman, should wear procedural or surgical masks, eye protection and aprons.

But Firman said she's received differing answers from the government and wants to know exactly what kind of masks should be worn in a salon and by whom.

Darlene Mitchell, who runs a home-based salon in Regina, said she too sought guidance on how to use protective equipment. She eventually turned for help from a friend who teaches about personal protective gear.

“We need more information," Mitchell said. “If the goal is protecting people, why wasn't that put out first and foremost?”

In a statement to The Canadian Press, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Trade and Export Development pointed to additional online resources employers can reference for specifics about the equipment.

Mitchell and Firman are also worried about purchasing safety items like masks because of reported shortages in health-care fields.

Dr. Sandy Buchman, president of the Canadian Medical Association, said he too is concerned with more sectors looking to acquire personal protective equipment. That could place additional pressure on supplies.

"If we do open up too early, we will be competing for that same limited supply."

The association recently released a survey of about 2,500 doctors suggesting many are still anxious about the availability of masks, gloves and gowns and feel divided about whether the supply has improved.

"There’s confusing messaging coming or no messaging at all, so we’re not getting a clear idea from government as to what (personal protective equipment) is in the pipeline, when will it arrive, how much is coming," Buchman said.

He said there could be resentment if front-line health workers feel they don't have an adequate stock and other sectors are using it. 

In a statement, Health Canada said the provision of protective equipment for health-care workers is mainly up to provinces. The federal government has helped with bulk procurement and domestic production of certain items.

Ontario has published more than 60 guidelines for employers to follow.

"Medical masks should be reserved for health-care workers," said the Ontario Ministry of Labour, adding cloth masks could be considered instead.

Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses CEO Dan Kelly said governments have a role in helping businesses source goods when there are requirements.

Kelly said he is optimistic. Supply chains seem to be delivering more personal protective equipment for the country's health-care workers.

"We need to obviously do more than that and ensure that we can supply not just the emergency services, but the economy more broadly."

Firman, who works with seven other stylists, also wants to ensure that once open, she has an adequate supply of items such as masks and eye protection to stay open.

"As everything’s opening and as all these industries need it, then all of a sudden if I can’t get it, and then I have to shut down again — that’s a huge concern."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 5, 2020.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press