Dental offices open in Texas, Fla. despite spikes in COVID-19

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Dental practices are continuing with business as usual in Texas and Florida, despite those two Sun Belt states becoming new hot spots for COVID-19, according to the states' dental associations.

The governors in Texas and Florida have paused reopening plans, meaning they will not continue to their next phases of recovery, due to a surge in novel coronavirus cases and threats to hospital capacity. However, these pauses do not affect dentists working at practices or the types of procedures they perform.

"Florida dentists are following federal, state, and local regulations and continuing to practice the highest level of infection control protocols we have always used, as well as implementing additional safety measures to protect the safety and well-being of our patients and dental team," Andrew Brown, DDS, president of the Florida Dental Association, said in a statement.

U.S. at its worst

More than 2.4 million cases of the novel coronavirus have been reported and approximately 125,000 have died from the virus in the U.S. New York and New Jersey were hot spots for the virus, but they managed to flatten their curves through monthslong stay-at-home orders and strict rules such as mandatory mask-wearing inside buildings and not allowing customers to congregate inside bars and restaurants. Meanwhile, states in the Sun Belt began lifting restrictions several weeks ago, including allowing dental practices to reopen, which many experts have said led to cases swelling at a record pace.

On June 14, 1,765 people in Florida tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Each day, the state added thousands of new cases to its tally, reaching its peak number of 9,564 new cases of COVID-19 on June 26. As of June 28, Florida had 141,075 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 3,419 deaths in the state with only 12% of those being residents and staff at long-term care and correction facilities, according to the Florida Department of Health.

Texas, the second most populous state in the U.S., had 148,723 confirmed COVID-19 cases and an estimated 66,356 deaths as of June 28. The rising number of cases in the counties of Bexar, Dallas, Travis, and Harris, where the state's most populous city (Houston) is located, has driven officials to rethink its reopening. About 29,000 cases have been reported in Harris County, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Handling the pause

Though the pause from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on moving to phase 3 of the state's reopening plan does not affect dental practices, Florida's dental association will continue to look for guidance from state and federal authorities, including the ADA.

"Our highest priority is the health and safety of Florida's patients," Dr. Brown said in a statement.

On June 25, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also issued an executive order that prohibited elective surgeries in hospitals in Bexar, Dallas, Harris, and Travis counties to preserve hospital beds for COVID-19 patients. Dentists working at hospitals in those counties must show that patients are at risk for serious medical consequences or death if they don't receive surgical dental treatment in a "timely" manner.

"His new order does not impact the ability of dentists to continue practicing in their dental offices and in locations other than hospitals in Bexar, Dallas, Harris, and Travis counties," said Diane Rhodes, senior policy manager at the Texas Dental Association.

Abbott's order remains in effect until it is amended or rescinded.

"Dentists are reminded to adhere strictly to the dental board's COVID-19 emergency rule including the use of personal protective equipment and infection control protocols," Rhodes said.

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