Small businesses suffer, but see ‘silver linings’ in pandemic, too

BOSTON — No magazines, no toys - not even any patient brochures.

That is the waiting room of the post-pandemic world at Marlboro Dental Care. Dr. Susan Ciampa, who co-owns the practice with husband Dr. Domenic Albanese, explains that any of those items could harbor COVID-19.

For the time being, the waiting room will also have no patients.

“When a patient arrives, they call us from their car and we will greet them at their car and we will have a series of questions we will ask them,” Ciampa said.

Those questions will hopefully ferret out exposures to COVID-19 or symptoms suggestive of infection.

“We also take their temperature and if the temperature is more than 100.4 we need to reschedule them,” said Ciampa.

Since mid-March, Marlboro Dental Care has done a lot of rescheduling. When the state of emergency went into effect, dentists were only allowed to service patients needing emergency services - such as those with infections, or in pain or any condition that couldn’t wait 30 days.

"Actually, because we have only been able to treat emergency patients, some of our patients who weren't emergencies have become emergencies," Ciampa said. "Say they had a cracked filling. a month or two ago. We have not been able to treat that and now the filling has broken completely and maybe they end up needing to have a tooth removed or even a root canal."

But beginning next week, dentists in Massachusetts will be able to treat such 'pre-emergent' patients, under Governor Charlie Baker's Phase One reopening guidelines.

“It’s still not allowing us to do regular cleanings," said Albanese. "That’s going to be the next phase it looks like. It’s something. And hopefully by June 1st or the middle of June we’ll be back to normal, sort of.”

Actually, Albanese said the office will never really be back to normal. While infection control was always a top priority, it is now the prime objective. Air purifiers were installed, at a cost of $2,000. Personal protective gear is more extensive than ever. And surfaces from doorknobs to counters to light switches are disinfected when patients depart.

Although the office has been losing money since the pandemic began, both dentists see something positive coming out of it.

"In terms of the infection control, I think it's not a bad idea to leave the counters completely clear, to be constantly disinfecting," Ciampa said. "I think that's a good thing."

“Everybody’s being careful. Everybody’s taking it seriously. And I think it’s going to affect the number of flu deaths - regular flu deaths - going forward, as well,” said Albanese. “There are some silver linings here. But it’s a shame. It’s a shame that we have to go through this whole process to get to that place where we really take infectious diseases seriously.”

In Holliston, Pam Farrell took COVID-19 very seriously last March.

The owner of Coffee Haven could have stayed open and done a purely take-out business, but she was concerned about safety.

“We just couldn’t get a feel for how safe it was to be open,” Farrell said.

But Monday, the shop held it's grand reopening. Employees wore masks and gloves. A barrier separated customers from the cashier. And physical distance markings kept customers safely apart.

"It was a good trickle," Farrell said. "Now that everybody's wearing masks I think people are more willing to come in and out of businesses."

Farrell said the best part of reopening was catching up with customers she hadn't seen since winter.

“I really did miss all those people," said Farrell.

And those people missed her. She believes that is one of the keys to bouncing back.

“We hope that we all survive this," said Farrell. "We’re very lucky that we’ve been here a long time and we have such a loyal following.”

And did Farrell find any silver lining to the pandemic?


“We’ve been here for over 20 years and it gave us a chance to replace the rug, clean the place up, touch up the paint, fix it up and really think about our menu and think about how we wanted to do things,” said Farrell. “When you’re in business, day to day, you just don’t have time to regroup. And it really did give us time to do that.”

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