Patient volume had been holding steady at approximately 80% of pre-COVID-19 levels, but results released on October 30 show volume fell to 78%. This is in line with the number of practices reporting "business as usual," which has been sliding each week from about 48% during the week of September 7 to about 39% during the week of October 19. The data include responses from about 3,000 dentists.
"The latest data suggest that we are firmly in a 'new normal' or maybe even that economic activity in dental offices might be starting to slow," said Chelsea Fosse, a senior health policy analyst at HPI.
Unlike many other sectors that face steeper climbs to recovery from COVID-19, dentistry seemed to make a pretty strong return once practices were given the green light to reopen. Experts warned about a fall slump and now numbers are showing that it may be here. With high unemployment rates, losses in employer-sponsored dental coverage, spikes in SARS-CoV-2 infections in states across the U.S., and no clear national strategy outlined to get COVID-19 under control, only time will tell how things shake out ultimately for dentistry.
Link between volume and COVID-19
There is a very weak relationship between COVID-19 cases and patient volume at the state level. States with greater increases in the number of COVID-19 cases had slightly greater declines in patient volume during the past month, according to the data.
"Patient volume is, at most, very slightly correlated with both COVID-19 cases and test positivity rates," Fosse said.
Geography is also playing a role in recovery. Dentists practicing in the 20 largest cities reported lower patient volume numbers. On average, patient volume in cities is at 75% of pre-COVID-19 levels. However, patient volume is slightly above the national average in rural and smaller urban areas. Nonurban areas are experiencing patient volume at 83% of pre-COVID-19 levels and smaller urban areas are at 80%, according to the results.
"Many factors could be driving this," Fosse said.
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