Updated March 4, 2020
Dentists are advised to continue to screen all patients for recent travel to any locations confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to have confirmed cases of COVID-19, also known as the new coronavirus, which first appeared in December 2019 in Wuhan, China. Any travel completed between December and now is considered recent travel. As part of the screening, dentists should also verify when the patient returned to the United States. Dentists can check the list daily until health officials report that screening is no longer necessary.
If the patient reports that at least two weeks have passed since their return from one of the CDC-reported countries and no symptoms have presented, the dental office can proceed with the appointment. Dentists should also advise patients who are experiencing acute respiratory illness, including symptoms of fever, cough or shortness of breath, to remain home and reschedule appointments.
At the time of this update, 72 countries spanning every continent but Antarctica had confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, a significant increase since CDA last reported on the virus. In California, there were 43 confirmed cases, including the 24 individuals from repatriation flights. Of newer concern was the first reported case of unknown origin in the U.S., meaning the infected patient, a resident of Solano County, had not recently traveled to a country where the new coronavirus has been confirmed and had no known contact with anyone who’d recently traveled to an affected country. The patient was transferred to a hospital in Sacramento County and is now being treated. Since then, several more cases of unknown origin have occurred in California, Oregon and Washington.
Reviewing office policies, practicing good hand hygiene
Interim CDC guidance for businesses and employers recommends that employers now encourage employees who report symptoms of acute respiratory illness to stay home and not return to work until they are free of symptoms for at least 24 hours. However, employers should consult with legal counsel before requiring an employee who recently traveled to China or through any region where there has been an outbreak of the virus to stay home from work to ensure the employer is not violating the Americans with Disabilities Act or any local, state or federal antidiscrimination laws.
The CDC’s interim guidance also covers the importance of ensuring that “sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance” and provides recommendations on practicing good hand hygiene in the workplace. Health officials know COVID-19 is transmitted through close contact with an infected individual. Individuals can prevent the spread of viruses by practicing good hand hygiene (hand washing, hand sanitizer use), avoiding touching the face with unwashed hands, avoiding close contact with sick individuals and staying away from other individuals while sick.
Dentists should review their office policies and discuss with their employees any current or needed efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.