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Dental schools take proactive steps in response to coronavirus outbreak

Classes turn virtual, clinics reschedule appointments

March 16, 2020

By Kimber Solana

Coronavirus icon
Image courtesy of CDC/Alissa Eckert, Dan Higgins 
Classes moving online, practicing social distancing and cancelling of university-sponsored travel and events are among the ways dental schools around the country are responding to the outbreak of the coronavirus, now known as COVID-19.
   
Some are extending their spring breaks an extra week and requesting those returning from abroad to self-quarantine for at least 14 days as part of their effort to curtail the spread of the virus, and ensuring the safety of their students, staff and patients.
   
Some dental clinics have closed, others are only admitting urgent or emergency care cases, and some are offering additional screening protocol guidance based on federal agencies’ and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
   
“One of the best ways to prevent the spread of viral illness is to minimize the circumstances in which individuals may interact and transmit disease,” said Ohio State University President Michael V. Drake, M.D., in a message to the students and faculty.
   
At the University of Washington — which is located in one of the hardest hit states by the virus in the U.S. — appointments for routine adult dental treatment (such as a checkup, cleaning or a filling) have been canceled and will work with the patient to reschedule. The University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry’s clinic also announced it would only see urgent care patients through March 30. All other appointments during that period will be rescheduled.

Other dental schools, such as Texas A&M University and the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry, added protocols that reduce any transmission of infection and postponing dental treatments on patients who may be ill. Patients are asked to reschedule their dental appointments and call their physician if they currently feel sick. Patients who have traveled outside the U.S. in the last two weeks to an area affected by the coronavirus disease, including China, Italy, Japan and South Korea, are also asked to reschedule their appointment.
   
“Because we do not have reliable testing for COVID-19 in the clinic, this rule should apply to all those with respiratory infections and/or fevers,” said Dr. Paul C. Dechow, associate dean for academic affairs at Texas A&M College of Dentistry, in a March 11 message addressed to his colleagues.
  
In addition, Dr. Dechow instructed that students, staff or faculty members who become ill to stay home and self-quarantine, without penalty for missed attendance.
   
“Although students must work with their instructors to assure that all necessary work is completed,” he added.
   
At Tufts University, classes will be conducted virtually for the remainder of the semester starting March 25, after students return from spring break, which was extended an extra week.
   
“As an institution committed to civic life, we must do our part to contain the spread of COVID-19, not only among our own community and campuses, but also among those with whom we come into contact externally,” said Tufts University President Anthony P. Monaco, M.D. and Ph.D., in a message to students, faculty and staff.
   
“As a result, and in the best interests of our community, we are making significant, immediate changes, some of which will be disappointing to you and create difficulties that together we will need to manage,” Dr. Monaco added.
   
The University of the Pacific says it is transitioning from in-person to remote instruction through the end of the academic year while suspending all sports competition and providing supervisors flexibility to allow telecommuting.
   
Tufts has also canceled on-campus events that include external visitors and prohibited university-sponsored domestic and international travel for students, faculty and staff.
   
In its weekly “Dentistry Newsbrief,” the University of California San Francisco dental school announced it canceled events and reminded students and staff to stay home if they are sick, to observe hand hygiene and follow screening protocols and use required protective equipment in clinical settings.
   
Last week, the American Dental Education Association cancelled its 2020 ADEA Annual Session & Exhibition, planned for March 14-17 in National Harbor, MD. Schools and programs are sharing information within ADEA Connect online communities and ADEA will continue to facilitate this central hub for members’ COVID-19 response and resource sharing.
   
“Please be assured that we are continuing to monitor the effects the virus is having on our dental institutions,” says Karen P. West, ADEA president and CEO. “Our member community has risen to the public health challenge that is facing us today and we stand strong as an organization to support and protect our patients and our academic dental institutions as they continue to serve and educate.”
   
The coronavirus disease, which is now deemed a pandemic by the World Health Organization, has led to tens of thousands of cases of respiratory illness in China, where the virus was first detected in Wuhan, and infections have been reported in many other countries as well, including the U.S. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in animals and people, causing the common cold or more severe illnesses, such as SARS and MERS.
   
As of March 16, there have been 3,487 cases in the U.S., according to the CDC. As of March 15, there have been 153,517 cases globally, according to the World Health Organization.
   
The American Dental Association has created an informational webpage and handout for dentists on the coronavirus disease at ADA.org/virus.