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COVID-19 Mask, Screening and Physical Distancing FAQ

November 20, 2023 28645

Do patients have to wear masks while in the practice?

No, they do not unless the practice is in a county or city that still requires masking or has implemented a policy requiring masks.  While CDC guidance no longer recommends universal masking in health care settings, the stricter requirement by local agencies prevails. The California Department of Public Health July 28th, 2023 guidance, advises local healthcare facilities to consider local circumstances, such as vulnerability of patient to COVID-19 and other respiratory infections and local transmission of respiratory infections, when developing source control masking plans for healthcare personnel.

Do staff have to wear masks while at work?

Yes, as required by the Cal/OSHA bloodborne pathogens regulation and the Dental Board infection control regulations. A mask must also be worn by an employee by an employee for 10 days:

  • Following a close contact exposure with someone who has COVID-19.
  • After testing positive for COVID-19 even if not symptomatic.

Are respirators still required to be used in the practice?

Cal OSHA expects dental practices to evaluate employees’ need for PPE. A dental employer must provide and ensure use of respiratory protection for employees exposed to procedures that aerosolize saliva or other potentially infectious materials, unless a patient has a negative test result after self-administering an OTC COVID-19 antigen diagnostic test on the same day and prior to the performance of dental procedures which aerosolize saliva or other potentially infectious materials.

Staff may voluntarily choose to wear a respirator while at work and for non-aerosol generating procedures, and the employer must provide it if requested, per Cal/OSHA. Voluntary use of a respirator does not require the employer to provide a medical evaluation or fit testing but the employer must ensure the employee is trained on how to put it on and how to perform a seal check each time the respirator is worn.

What should my practice’s mask policy state?

The dental practice’s mask policy should be consistent with local public health orders and disability rights laws. A dental practice may continue to require patients and staff to wear masks based on their community, patient population, and other facility considerations.  

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 before the appointment and refuses to wear a mask, develop messaging for your dental team to reschedule the patient for a later date before their arrival for their appointment. 

What if a patient gets upset about the mask policy?

Suppose a patient refuses to wear a mask while in the dental office and becomes confrontational. In that case, 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.

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