It’s Sunday night, Jan. 9, and my head is spinning. I just reviewed all the articles I’ve written for “In the Know” in 2021. Even though I knew it was going to be ugly, I just checked the CDC COVID Tracker page that updated about ten minutes ago. Then I glanced at the article I wrote last month wondering, “What the heck just happened?” In a word: Omicron.
I’m struggling to figure out which Yogi-ism is most appropriate. Is it “It’s déjà vu all over again,” or “It ain’t over till it’s over”? We’re back in a situation much like we were in February—community transmission levels of COVID have rocketed up to where only one Texas county (out of 254) has a community transmission rate lower than the highest rating. Heck, only eleven counties in the country are at moderate or low community transmission levels now.
How does that translate into actionable advice to all Texas-based dental practices? Every dental clinician in Texas *who isn’t located in Sherman County must be using respirators during aerosol-generating procedures (AGPs). No ifs, ands, or buts.
If we’re lucky, this wave might peak by February. For as transmissible as Omicron is, it appears its symptoms aren’t quite as hard to deal with—if you’re vaccinated. Stay masked up. Remember, there are still a lot of your neighbors out there that can’t or choose not to be vaccinated. If they get Omicron, they have about a 10 times greater chance of being hospitalized; and we don’t have the doctors, nurses, and beds to deal with them all at once. If we don’t flatten this curve, a lot of innocent people are going to suffer because they can’t get the care they need for cancer, heart or kidney disease, you name it.
OSHA Investigations and Cited Violations
Ok, enough about words that start with a “C.” Let’s take a quick glance at OSHA investigations of dental practices in 2021. As you might suspect, the numbers of inspections went down—from 96 in 2020 to only 83 in 2021. It’s impossible to ascertain from OSHA’s database, but I’d say the actual number of investigations went up, based on the calls I received and investigations I worked on that resulted in cases being settled without requiring an on-site inspection. OSHA investigators have had their hands full with cases and made the smart move to try to get folks to do the right thing without resorting to in-person inspections. After communicating with my OSHA contacts, I can tell you they’ve been dealing with many of the same challenges private businesses have. Frankly, they’ve also had bigger fish to fry.
One trend I noticed that doesn’t bode well for dental practices is the number of violations cited when inspections did occur. It wasn’t that many years ago when the average number of violations resulting from an inspection would average three to five per citation. This year I saw several inspections that resulted in 15, 20, even 23 violations in one inspection. So, a word to the wise: when these inspectors do feel compelled to pay a little visit, it appears they’re really taking a hard look and everything someone is messing up is fair game. The rule we’ve always preached in this business is the same today as it was ten years ago when we started helping dentists: It’s a whole lot easier and less expensive to do things right the first time than to go through the pain and hassle of scrambling around fixing things after the fact.