Dentists, doctors offices in Washington can reopen for non-emergency medical procedures

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PASCO, Wash. — Starting Monday, dental offices and other healthcare providers around Washington are allowed to reopen for non-emergency procedures.

Proclamation 20-24, which temporarily prohibited these procedures in order to keep the focus on COVID-19 patients, expired Monday at noon. 

Gov. Jay Inslee announced an emergency proclamation Monday afternoon that allows all health care services to re-open as long as they follow certain health and safety protocols. The plan calls for doctor’s offices and dental practices to have enough PPE, put in place social distancing policies and check visitors and patients for symptoms of COVID-19.

To help offices prepare, the Washington State Dental Association and Delta Dental of Washington announced Friday that they would distribute 150,000 KN95 masks and 150,000 surgical masks to dentists around the state.

Once staff at DentalWest in Pasco learned that restrictions would be lifted Monday, they started preparing.

“We started putting patients in the schedule in a safe manner,” said Dr. Stephen Leavens. “We’ve had to really change the way that we treat our patient flow.”

They took out many of the chairs in their lobby, added an air filter and removed all magazines. Dr. Leavens said they essentially will have a “virtual lobby” – patients will have to call ahead of time and someone will go out and take their temperature before they are let in. Staff will wear necessary masks, face shields and gowns.

Dr. Leavens said they have enough PPE to safely operate, but obtaining that supply was one of the major challenges.

“It’s been a tremendous difficulty,”he said. “Our local supply chain was cut off from us, so we’ve had to outsource and look for other ways and pay extraordinary amounts of money.”

He’s not alone.

At West Richland Family Dental, they have the necessary PPE to reopen safely as well, but it took some planning ahead.

“We didn’t anticipate a pandemic, but not having enough PPE was already one of our contingencies,” said business manager Paul Madsen, in charge of looking at potential risk for the company.

They had been increasing orders for PPE since early January, and it paid off. They also plan on reopening their office for non-emergency procedures sometime this week.

At DentalWest, they’ve been able to re-hire most of their employees that were laid off due to the pandemic and are confident in the measures they’ve taken.

“Dentistry has always been great about infection control – we know how to wipe down surfaces, we know how to wear a face mask.” said Dr. Leavens. “We’ve had to incorporate additional precautions to make the patients feel safe and to keep the team safe, but we’re ready to go.”