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As California moves forward with reopening the economy and lifting the statewide mask mandate for fully vaccinated individuals on June 15, dental practice owners should be prepared to communicate to patients that face coverings will still be required in the dental office.
After June 15, fully vaccinated individuals will not be required to wear a mask in most indoor places; however, guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that all parties, including patients and visitors, should continue wearing face coverings in health care settings, including dental offices, regardless of their vaccination status.
Starting June 15, the California Department of Public Health will begin enforcing a new policy that aligns with the CDC guidance.
To help ease confusion among patients, CDA advises practice owners to clearly communicate the CDC and CDPH mask guidance to patients prior to their scheduled appointment. Sample messaging to help practices communicate with patients, including a sample email, is available in the CDA Back to Practice center. Practice owners may also want to include the messaging on their website and social media channels.
CDA advises practice owners to consider the following strategies:
CDA Practice Support analysts have received an increase in calls from member dentists who are unclear on how to continue enforcing a face covering policy in the dental office amid the state’s upcoming mask-mandate changes.
Analysts have answered the top five questions regarding face coverings in the dental office below.
Do I have to follow CDC mask guidance for my dental practice?
The CDC issues recommendations and guidance, but they are not a legal body that can issue mandates. While CDC guidance cannot be legally enforced, CDPH will adopt a policy to align with the CDC guidance on June 15. Additionally, individual counties and cities may institute their own mandates that could include fines for violations.
What should my practice’s mask policy state?
The dental practice’s mask policy should clearly state that all patients and visitors must wear a face covering in the dental office regardless of their vaccination status, according to CDC and CDPH guidance. Practice owners can find sample messaging in the Back to Practice center.
If a patient refuses to wear a mask in my dental practice, can I deny them service?
In limited circumstances, there could be a situation in which a patient cannot wear a mask due to a legitimate health reason. In this case, the practice may consider a special accommodation, such as scheduling the patient when other patients are not present.
The goal of the practice should be to clearly communicate the policy to patients prior to their appointment and answer any questions they may have. If the patient expresses concern prior to the appointment and refuses to wear a mask, develop messaging for your dental team to use to reschedule the patient for a later date prior to their arrival for their appointment. CDA has developed sample messaging for rescheduling patients.
What if a patient gets upset about the mask policy?
If a patient refuses to wear a mask while in the dental office and becomes confrontational, it may be necessary to call security or law enforcement to help de-escalate the situation. Practice owners are responsible for keeping employees safe while they are at work. Physical and verbal violence should never be tolerated in the dental office.
If a patient shows proof of full vaccination, can the patient enter the dental office without a mask?
While the dental practice can modify the patient screening questions for fully vaccinated patients, CDC and CDPH guidance still recommends all patients wear a face covering while visiting a health care facility regardless of their vaccination status.
Additional resources on how to manage fully vaccinated staff and patients, including an updated COVID-19 patient screening form and employee self-reporting guidance, are available in the Back to Practice center.
Kerry K. Carney, DDS
Journal Editor in Chief