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How and when to notify patients of COVID-19 exposure in the dental office

January 27, 2022 6576

The post-holiday surge of the omicron variant across California has led to an increase in calls to CDA’s Practice Support and The Dentists Insurance Company from dental offices that are unsure of how or if they are required to notify patients after a dentist or staff member tests positive for COVID-19.

Here’s what you need to do if you determine that an infected employee has potentially exposed patients to COVID-19.

If an employee reports a positive COVID-19 result, the first step is to assess whether a close contact exposure has occurred. Close contact is defined by Cal/OSHA as being within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period regardless of location, except if an individual is wearing a properly fitted respirator such as an N95.

If you’ve determined close contact exposure has occurred, you should conduct contract tracing. Identify which patients had close contact exposure to the employee from two days prior to the onset of the employee’s symptoms or positive test until the employee was last at the practice.

Next, you should immediately notify each person who had close contact exposure and advise them to consult with a medical care provider.

When notifying patients of close contact exposure, it’s important to keep the following in mind: 

  • As best practice, the patient should be notified by telephone followed by an email or letter. The conversation should be documented in the patient’s chart.
  • You are not permitted to disclose the employee’s identity, vaccination status or health information to the patient. 
  • Recommend the patient get tested for COVID-19 at least five days after close contact exposure per guidance by the California Department of Public Health.
  • Remind the patient that the dental office follows all CDPH and CDC COVID-19 safety and infection control procedures. CDA Practice Support has developed a letter template that dental practices can use to inform patients of their safety precautions.

Reporting requirements to local health department, Cal/OSHA, workers’ comp 

In addition to notifying the patient, you may also be required to notify Cal/OSHA, your local health department or workers’ compensation.

Each agency has its own reporting requirements as follows:

  • Cal/OSHA: Report any serious illness, injury or death of an employee that occurred at work or in connection with work within eight hours of knowing of the illness, injury or death. A serious illness or injury is classified as inpatient hospitalization for a reason other than medical observation or diagnostic testing.
  • Local health department: Report to your local health department when an employee’s positive diagnosis is the third or more positive diagnosis of an employee within 14 days. 
  • Workers’ compensation: If you have five or more employees, you must notify your workers’ compensation carrier of all employees who have reported a positive COVID-19 test within three business days of learning of the diagnosis.

The Reporting Symptoms, Exposure or Positive Test for COVID-19: Employee Tracking Form offers step-by-step guidance on assessing close contact exposure, contact tracing and reporting requirements. Additional resources on reporting a positive COVID-19 test in the dental office are available in the CDA Practice Support Library

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