As 2021 is coming to a close, our dance with COVID-19 resembles more of a herky-jerky jitterbug than a smooth waltz. Last week’s numbers in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s COVID Data Tracker show a mixed bag. Let’s review, with an eye towards what the numbers mean for your practice.
The numbers have gone down the last few months…
How do the COVID Data Tracker numbers stack up for Texas? They’re definitely coming down—at least for now. Two months ago, every county in the state, save one, was rated “high” or “substantial” community transmission. As of last week, out of 292 Texas counties, “only” 64% of them were rated “high” or “substantial.” That’s a huge improvement. (For clarification, we’re talking percentage of counties here—not percentage of population.)
…But CDC guidance is based on community transmission.
It’s very important to remember that the CDC bases much of its guidance for infection control procedures in dental practices on the level of community transmission. (The CDC categorizes community transmission rates for COVID as high, substantial, moderate, or low.) So for example, if your practice is located in a county with a community transmission level of substantial or high, the CDC says your staff should be wearing respirators when conducting aerosol-generating procedures.
Review infection control and exposure control procedures with your staff regularly.
I’ve spent almost ten years working with several regulatory bodies that affect dentistry. A large part of what I do is dig into and become familiar with the guidance and regulations that ensure the safety of dental employees and patients.
As easy as it is to cast aspersions on CDC (or Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA]) for seemingly arbitrary or illogical dictates, I’ve found it encouraging to discover the science and data behind practically every guidance I’ve encountered.
One particular publication I encourage dental clinicians to become familiar with is CDC’s Weekly Mortality and Morbidity Report (MMWR). Often called “the voice of CDC,” the MMWR is the agency’s primary vehicle for publication of timely scientific public health information and recommendations. The information is accurate, objective, reliable, and authoritative.
Vaccinations are the best bet.
As we try to correlate what we’re doing to combat COVID and lower infection rates and levels of community transmission, one study published in the MMWR in August caught my eye. It tracked all 43,127 reported cases of COVID infections in Los Angeles County, CA, from May 1 through July 25. Here’s the takeaway: being vaccinated doesn’t mean you can’t contract COVID. As with most vaccines, there are breakthrough infections and, unfortunately, deaths. But this study also showed hospitalization rates among unvaccinated persons were 29.2 times higher than those of fully vaccinated persons.
We’ve seen several ebbs and flows of infection levels; and there are so many variables, it’s a challenge to point a finger at one particular bit of data to say “ah, there’s our solution/culprit!” However, whatever the community transmission rate is in your county, vaccinations are still the best bet to keep you, your loved ones, your staff, and your patients out of harm’s way.
The bottom line: This is no time to become complacent. Stay on top of CDC and OSHA’s recommendations, follow their guidance, and keep the staff informed. Be the leader and the example your team and patients need. Let’s stay safe out there!