By Thomas Berger
November 3, 2020

High-contact businesses go the extra mile to stay safe

As necessity is the mother of invention, survival is the mother of adaptation when it comes to businesses trying to outlive a worldwide pandemic.

Businesses of all sectors and sizes nationwide are suffering as they struggle to stay alive in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps the hardest hit of all are businesses that are, by their very nature, high-contact, such as medical offices, gyms, hair salons, and the like.

Here’s a look at a few “high-contact” Edmond businesses and what they have done in response to COVID.

Philip M. Gray, DDS

Edmond dentist Phillip Gray, DDS (Photo: Brent Fuchs)

Dentist Dr. Philip Gray, who owns his own practice near the Danforth Road and Bryant Avenue crossing, said his office made several procedural changes and upgrades to ensure the safety of his patients and team members.

“We were always proud to offer the highest level of infection prevention control prior to COVID, but we feel like by adding these additional measures, it offers a very safe environment for our patients and team members,” he said.

Gray said like many dentists, his office prescreens patients by telephone a few days before the appointment, requesting those with COVID symptoms or those in contact with known cases to reschedule.

Patients arriving for their appointments are asked to stay in their vehicles until requested to enter. They are then screened, and their temperatures are taken upon entering the building.

“The screening process is just to make sure we’re preventing exposure to potential infection to team members and fellow patients,” said Gray.

Additionally, his office eliminated two-thirds of the waiting area’s seating and removed its coffee station, reading materials, and play area toys to allow for better social distancing and reduce disease transference risks.

“Now there is almost zero patient-to-patient contact and no waiting in the waiting room,” said Gray, saying how staff have even staggered the order of receiving and releasing patients to limit patients passing in halls.

Furthermore, the office is now scheduling patients’ next appointments while still in the treatment area so patients can immediately exit the building through a side door without approaching the front desk.

“They can just leave without having to go through a high traffic area,” said Gray. He said this new workflow will likely continue post-COVID.

As a matter of procedure, each care provider either wears a Level-3 surgical mask or an N95 mask under a face shield when caring for patients.

During the month-and-a-half mandatory shutdown, the office installed HEPA filtration units in each treatment area to remove fine particulates from the air and replaced the dental procedure suction devices with newer, low aerosol-producing upgrades.

Gray said with all of these measures, patients can be confident they have little to worry about at his practice regarding COVID and other infectious diseases.

“I feel like we have implemented high-quality protocols that make visiting the dentist as safe as visiting anywhere.”

Blocworks climbing gym

While businesses such as dentist offices and other medical facilities can implement fine controls to mitigate the virus’s spread, for other operations, such control is a bit more challenging.

“I would say we probably have about 7,000 holds on the wall and so just with our tracks and with our high-traffic facility, there’s just not a way to clean individual holds,” said Evan Small, owner of Blocworks, a newly opened climbing gym just off Broadway Street in downtown Edmond.

The 4,000-square-foot facility features multiple 14-foot-tall bouldering walls, with a number of holds, color-coded routes and foam padding on the floor below, three pieces of exercise equipment, and a patio providing space where climbers can relax and spend time together.

The exterior of Blocworks in downtown Edmond (Photo: Brent Fuchs)

“We definitely highlight community, whether that’s people that have been rock climbers for a long time or brand new people that have somehow got introduced to the sport,” said Small.

Though he desires community, as a COVID-era precaution, limiting the number of people scaling the walls is one method he tries to keep his business and its patrons safe.

In addition to requesting those with symptoms and those having come in contact with COVID patients to stay home, Small said the Blocworks website homepage features a counter letting people know in real-time how many climbers are in the gym.

He said he expects people to use the counter to determine whether to climb, keeping in mind social distancing.

As far as other measures in place, Small said patrons are required to sanitize their hands upon entering the gym, to have their temperatures taken by staff, and to wear masks at all times, except when they are climbing or exercising on equipment.

During these times, climbers may lower their masks to enable proper breathing. Staff are required to wear masks at all times.

While his staff may not be able to sanitize the thousands of climbing holds, they regularly sanitize everything else, from door handles to restrooms to the fitness equipment — the latter if not cleaned by users as required — and perform deep cleans every day.

“That’s all we can do,” said Small. “We’re just trying to keep people safe and keep the business afloat and growing during these challenging times.”

Merkley’s Driving School

For other businesses, such as Merkley’s Driving School, located off Ayers Street and Bryant Avenue in Edmond, with perhaps a mere foot separating a student driver and the instructor in the car, social distancing is not an option.

Scott Merkley, the driving school’s owner, said he has implemented the CDC and Department of Safety guidelines for these situations, requiring students and staff sharing a vehicle to wear masks at all times and sanitizing vehicles after each driving session.

“Pretty much we’ve been doing that from day one, just wiping the cars down in between drivers, wearing masks, and asking questions to make sure that nobody we have in the car has been sick or has been around people that have been sick, and then taking temperatures,” he said.

The same measures are taken for students attending classes at the school. Thanks to technology, many classes have moved online during the epidemic and are hosted virtually.

“We’re just trying to keep up with the latest and greatest for allowing people to be open and to keep things as normal as possible.”

Merkley said with the measures taken, so far he hasn’t seen any COVID cases.

“We haven’t had any negative temperature checks. We haven’t had instructors be sick during this period of time since we’ve been open,” he said, adding the school was closed for more than a month during spring break, reopening in early May. “We’ve been fortunate that everyone has been healthy and haven’t had anything occur so far.”

These examples show that as necessity is the mother of invention, survival is the mother of adaptation — especially when it comes to businesses trying to outlive a worldwide pandemic.

In Edmond, as much as anywhere, small businesses are trying to do what they must to safely serve their clients as this is precisely what it will take to survive.

Blocworks patron on climbing wall (Photo: Brent Fuchs)

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About Thomas Berger

Thomas Berger is the owner of Ciskus Creative, an Edmond-based creative agency focused on creating marketing content for small and medium-sized businesses.

Prior to starting his own company, he worked as the communications/marketing specialist for an Oklahoma City-based office technology company. Former to coming to the Oklahoma City area, he had worked as a career journalist for more than a decade — initially reporting for several newspapers in western North Carolina and northeastern Oklahoma and later as a multimedia journalist for KJRH Channel 2 in Tulsa.

Thomas has lived in Edmond with his wife Alison since 2013. He has a passion for traveling, photography, learning languages, landscaping and coffee roasting. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Western Carolina University.