SEATTLE — Under Governor Jay Inslee's "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order, dental offices are considered an essential business, restricted to urgent care only. The restriction on dental offices is in effect through Monday, May 18. If no additional orders are issued, patients could be welcomed back next week.
As dental offices are getting ready to reopen and resume a full scope of care, some dental hygienists are raising their concerns.
Hygienists, asking for anonymity out of fear of losing their jobs, emailed KING 5 their reasons to hold off on reopening. One pointed out that COVID-19 can linger in the air for as long as three hours.
"How then can you protect the PATIENTS," she wrote.
Another email said, "dentists are moving forward with opening offices with short supply of masks. Asking staff to reuse masks."
Jennifer Zbaraschuk, President of the Washington Dental Hygienists' Association, says she's heard from dental hygienists who say their offices are ready, and from others who say they are no where close.
One hygienist she spoke with said her office has not even had meetings about reopening.
"So she's not aware of what the protocols are going to be, what type of PPE is going to be provided, or how she's expected to complete the treatment for the patients," said Zbaraschuk.
Zbaraschuk added that the governor created a task force focused on restarting Washington's healthcare system. WDHA has been working with the task force on drafting language for Inslee to consider about how to proceed.
The Washington State Dental Association is also included in the group working to create guidelines.
WSDA posted an update for its members on May 13, that in part said:
"WSDA and many other groups are strongly advocating for a broad reopening based upon dentists, physicians, and other providers assessing COVID-19 in their communities and using their clinical judgment to determine the need to provide specific health care services versus a one-size-fits-all approach. The impacts of continuing to delay needed care must be weighed in the decision-making process. We will continue to wholeheartedly advocate this position."
When dental offices do reopen, you could see plexiglass protecting the front counter, and the era of the waiting room over. Instead, you might have to wait outside until the office is ready to see you. Temperature checks and COVID-19 tests for patients before the appointment are also being discussed.
Dental hygienists are expressing an urgent concern about PPE.
"What we're hearing is that there is not enough and that it's not of the level that's needed for the types of procedures that we do that create aerosols. And as we know, with this virus, it can be passed through aerosols and droplets," said Zbaraschuk.
On Friday, WSDA announced that they have secured 150,000 KN95 masks and 150,000 surgical masks for free distribution to all practicing Washington dentists.
The American Dental Association says reopening needs to be a team approach with a lot of communication.