Businesses allowed to get back to work Friday as part of Gov. Janet Mills’ four-stage plan for reopening will proceed with caution, follow safety protocols and maintain social distancing guidelines, business owners said Wednesday.

Businesses allowed to reopen to the public with mandated restrictions because of the coronavirus pandemic include hair salons, car dealerships and health care providers, though health care settings have remained open but with dialed back activities.

HOSPITALS

MaineGeneral Health did not close its physician practices and other offices, though it dialed back the way it operated, according to Chuck Hays, chief executive officer of MaineGeneral Health, the parent organization of MaineGeneral Medical Center.

MaineGeneral is planning to dial up services on Monday rather than Friday, May 1, he said. Patients who are well but have chronic conditions that need to be addressed will be seen in the mornings and sicker patients will be seen in the afternoons, according to Hays.

Starting Monday, MaineGeneral, including the practices at its Thayer campus in Waterville, will be dialing up its services in accordance with the guidelines set by Gov. Janet Mills’ four-stage plan to reopen the economy, officials said Wednesday. Morning Sentinel file photo by Michael G. Seamans

Waiting rooms are being reconfigured so people are separated, Hays said. When people enter physicians’ practices and offices for orthopedics, physical therapy, occupational therapy, dermatology and the like, they will be asked questions and their temperatures will be taken, he said.

“We are asking people to come in with their own face coverings, and if they don’t have one when they come in, we’ll provide them with a mask,” Hays said.

All employees will be required to wear face masks, and cleaning throughout facilities will continue, he said.

Mammography screenings will start again as it is important to catch cancer diagnoses, according to Hays. Services including endoscopy, cardiology screenings, cancer screenings and so forth will open. Blood labs have remained open. Imaging activities including X-rays and CT scans, unless urgent, had been dialed back but will be reopened.

“On May 11 we will start opening up semi-urgent surgeries at Thayer Center for Health (in Waterville) first,” Hays said. “Our plan is to start at Thayer Center for Health’s operating room May 11.”

Emergency surgeries are being performed at Alfond Center for Health in Augusta and, based on how the semi-urgent surgeries go at Thayer, officials will determine when to open the Augusta hospital to semi-urgent surgeries, such as one for slow-growing cancer, according to Hays.

Hays noted that, as more services are opening up, officials will continuously monitor the situation for a possible uptick in COVID-19 patients.

Tim Dentry, president and chief executive officer of Northern Light Health, said in a statement Wednesday that day one of Northern Light’s plan is Friday.

“Rest assured that first and foremost we are ensuring strict infection prevention precautions including, but not limited to, universal face-coverings, temperature checks, and maintaining a strict visitor policy,” he said.

Like MaineGeneral locations, Northern Light Health facilities remained open and Dentry said what Northern Light is returning to is “greater ability to prioritize the needs of those patients who have been waiting for procedures that are medically necessary but not emergent.”

Northern Light, parent organization of Inland Hospital in Waterville and Sebasticook Valley Hospital in Pittsfield, will be prioritizing the needs of patients who have been waiting for procedures that are medically necessary but not emergent, officials said Wednesday in response to Gov. Janet Mills’ announcement of the first stage of reopening the economy. Courtesy of Northern Light Inland Hospital

Terri Vieira, president of Northern Light Inland Hospital in Waterville and Northern Light Sebasticook Valley Hospital in Pittsfield, said in the statement that the locations will start scheduling services based on criteria that support needs and the system’s ability to do so safely.

“We are being very thoughtful and moving forward with caution as we focus on safety, while recognizing there is a pent-up demand for services,” she said.

Some of the first services that Inland and Sebasticook Valley will make available include primary care visits, elective surgeries that have been on hold, and screening procedures such as mammograms and colonoscopies. Plans for resuming other services that have been delayed or postponed are being finished this week, Vieira said.

People entering Northern Light facilities will be screened for temperature and COVID symptoms upon entry, and all patients are required to wear masks as well as practice social distancing where possible.

Facilities continue to offer services via telehealth appointments for patients, Vieira said.

“It’s clear that telehealth is now an important part of how we deliver care going forward. Inland Hospital’s Walk-In Care office at 174 Kennedy Memorial Drive continues to welcome patients for nonemergency care. We also encourage patients to use the patient portal to communicate with their provider.”

In the meantime, Vieira said, those needing emergency care should call 911 immediately, and those needing routine care should contact their healthcare providers.

“Our very restricted visitor policies remain in effect at Inland Hospital, Sebasticook Valley Hospital, and at Northern Light Continuing Care, Lakewood,” she said. “This is for the safety of our most vulnerable residents and patients.”

DEALERSHIPS

Central Maine Motors Auto Group’s showroom on Kennedy Memorial Drive in Waterville has been closed to the public for the last six weeks but will reopen Friday and the number of customers allowed in at one time will be limited, according to owner Chris Gaunce.

“We feel ready and prepared to open,” Gaunce said Wednesday.

Salespeople at Charlie’s Motor Mall confer Wednesday at the Augusta dealership. The in-person sales will resume Friday with staff wearing PPEs and practicing social distancing. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

Central Maine Motors has been working with customers online and by appointment, digitizing its financial process and conducting as much business as possible outside the facility, Gaunce said. While the showroom has been closed, the parts and service departments have remained open, and a crew of three has been disinfecting and cleaning buildings four times a day, he said. Doors have been propped open so people do not have to touch them, and workers have been asked to socially distance themselves. Gaunce said he anticipates there will be a need for use of masks and installation of plexiglass in certain areas.

“A lot of it is stuff to empower us to help us live our lives a little bit more normally,” he said.

Gaunce said the only thing that concerns him is that the education everyone has received about social distancing and so forth will not be applied if people become apathetic and emotionally frustrated with the protocols required because of the coronavirus situation. It is important people continue with that protocol, as the virus is not going to go away, he said.

Charlie’s Family of Dealerships, which has locations in Augusta and Winthrop, has continued to sell cars — online and over the phone — since nonessential businesses were closed by executive order. On Friday, however, the dealerships’ showrooms will open back up for limited numbers of people at a time.

Steve Shuman, Charlie’s vice president and general manager, plans to keep most business outside.

“As much business as I can do outside, social distancing with masks on, we’re going to do,” he added. “We’re going to take all the cars out of the showroom, so if people are in there, it will be easier for them to be spread out. We’re going to be as safe as we can.”

Shuman said his staff also are wearing gloves and have a protocol for sanitizing every car.

“We’re going to conduct some training Thursday afternoon for what we’re looking to wipe down on cars, so everyone is clear,” he said. “Basically, all the customer contact parts.”

“We’re still zero customer contact in the service department,” Shuman added. “We are accepting appointments and walk-ins, but the service managers are meeting everyone through the drop slot.”

In Skowhegan, Sam Hight of Hight Ford said that even though strict regulations have been in place because of the virus, the business has been able to keep all 100 of its employees employed full-time.

Hight Ford, which has been family owned and operated since 1911, has kept its business running through online sales and through its parts and services garage.

New vehicles are lined up at Central Maine Motors in Waterville on Wednesday as the dealership makes plans to open on Friday following the guidelines set by Gov. Janet Mills in reopening the state economy. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

“For us as an organization, it wasn’t too much of a change because we already do a lot over-the-phone and remotely, and our sales have always been low pressure,” Hight said. “When you come into one of our dealerships, (the customer) only works with one salesperson.”

Changes that the business has made in the last six weeks include continued cleaning and disinfecting of facilities, adding barriers at service desks to allow for safe social distancing, using steering wheel covers, disinfecting vehicles and keys after being handled, spreading out waiting room seating and following social distancing guidelines.

On Friday, Hight said that though doors will open but restrictions will still be in place, such as only allowing five to eight customers in the facility at a time. Sales over the phone and online are still encouraged.

Where social distancing can’t be safely practiced, Hight said that employees will be equipped with face masks and other appropriate equipment. “We are asking customers to stay home if they are not feeling well. We can handle everything over the phone.”

Before coming to the showroom, customers are recommended to schedule their appointments ahead of time to ensure that not too many people will be in the facility at once.

“We as car dealers feel very fortunate that we were included on Stage 1,” Hight said.

To keep employees busy when business was slow, he said they worked to keep facilities clean and did other odd jobs around the office, such as painting.

SALONS

People’s Salon & Spa in Waterville is planning to open Friday following the guidelines set by Gov. Janet Mills. Morning Sentinel photo by Abrahamson Buy this Photo

Lisa Breton, owner of Studio 61 on Silver Street in Waterville, plans to have a soft opening Friday, but is being cautious and will allow only one or two clients in the salon at a time.

“I am a little nervous,” said Breton, who has owned the salon 25 years. “We haven’t gotten the guidelines yet. I, personally, think it’s too soon to open, especially since the governor extended the stay-at-home order to be until May 31. I was really shocked that she said we could practice doing hair. We’re very close to our clients.”

Nail technicians can not return to work until June 1 as part of the plan and hairstylists work just as closely to clients as nail workers, she said. Two of the five people who work in her salon have decided not to return to work.

“They’re not ready and I understand that,” she said.

Breton said she is thrilled that people who are self-employed now will be able to return to work, but it will be a struggle because they can not do the same amount of work that they did previously. Breton is in a better position than some because she owns the building her salon is in, she said. The people who work there rent their booths, which is the practice for many salons in the area.

William Dangler, owner of People’s Salon & Spa on Temple Street in Waterville, plans to reopen Friday with only hairstylists and a front desk person. People who provide other services will be allowed to come back to work in phases two and three of the governor’s plan for reopening businesses, he said.

“We can’t have nail techs, skin specialists or massage therapists,” Dangler said Wednesday.

Normally, 17 to 18 people work in the salon, but during the first phase, there will be five hairdressers, five clients and the front desk person, according to Dangler.

“People have to stay in their cars until they’re summonsed to come in,” he said.

Dangler said the salon has been ramping up to reopen, scheduling clients and changing scheduling so the salon operates on shift work, which allows everyone an opportunity to work, and a cleaning protocol will be in place.

“It’s mandatory — everyone wears a mask, clients as well as staff — and we have to sanitize between each client,” Dangler said.

Linda Puckett, owner of Linda’s Cutting Edge Hair Salon and Day Spa at 160 Water St. in Randolph, said she was nervous opening up, but she needed the income from her job. “With no income, going on 7 weeks, no unemployment, nothing, we need money.”

Puckett said she closed down her salon just before a mandate came down from Gov. Janet Mills.

“The minute the governor said that she recommended the salons, or anybody that touches the face or the hands shut down, I shut down,” Puckett said.

Puckett said five people usually work at the salon, but some will not return until later phases of the reopening plan. She said she would like to have only one person in the salon at a time, followed by a cleaning of her station, before getting another customer from the parking lot.

Puckett said she has been stocking up on capes, masks and other equipment at Randolph Hardware in preparation for opening.

RELIGIOUS SERVICES

Beginning on Friday, religious institutions are allowed to offer drive-in, stay-in-your-vehicle services.

Centerpoint Community Church in Waterville will hold its first drive-in service at 10 a.m. Sunday. The service will also be broadcast through a transmitter for the radio as well as live-streamed to its Facebook page.

The Diocese of Portland announced it would allow parishes across the state to begin holding drive-in services, but outlined rules for the gatherings:

• Holy Communion will not be distributed until a safe protocol can be developed.

• All parishioners will remain in their cars at all times.

• Only people who live together should be in the same vehicle.

• Churches and facilities will not be open for restroom use.

• Social distancing must be maintained by those who minister at these Masses.

• Cars must have one empty parking space between them in the parking lot.

• Collections will not be held during the Mass; instead, parishioners are encouraged to donate to their parish online or by mail.

OTHERS

The drive-in movie theater in Skowhegan, which is eligible to open under the first phase rules set by Gov. Janet Mills, posted on its Facebook page on Wednesday that it is looking for input from patrons about how it should operate in the coming months, stressing public safety as the most important consideration. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

Lisa Hawkes, owner of Happy Tails Pet Grooming at 445 Litchfield Road in Farmingdale, said she has a backlog of 100 customers ready to book appointments after five weeks off.

“It’s going to be crazy,” she said. “Some of those appointments I had in the books, but a lot of them are appointments of people who were trying to call me when I was out.”

Hawkes said she will not be allowing humans into her business, and she will be wearing a mask and gloves while grooming the animals.

“The only way I would be concerned (for my health) is if a customer of mine had it and … sneezed or coughed on their dog,” she said. “I just don’t think we know enough about it, so I think better to play it safe than sorry.”

According to Darryll White, the chief administrator of Lake George Regional Park that shares shorelines with Canaan and Skowhegan, the Lake George Regional Park Board determined Tuesday to open the park in accordance with the first stage of Mills’ plan.

The board has stated its intent to ensure safe use of the park. The park will not be staffed until Memorial Day weekend. Visitors now may enter using their season pass or pay into the Ranger box and are expected to be responsible for social distancing and other safety protocol.

 

Morning Sentinel writers Taylor Abbott and Molly Shelly and Kennebec Journal writer Sam Shepherd contributed to this report.

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