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Face masks off for many Californians, but not in health care settings

Dental offices should continue to screen patients for COVID-19

March 02, 2022 9111

Mask requirements have changed swiftly as new COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations decline across much of California and the nation. The California Department of Public Health on Monday once again updated its guidance on the use of face masks ― this time to closely align with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance issued last Friday.

Effective March 1, CDPH "strongly recommends that all persons, regardless of vaccine status, continue indoor masking." The new guidance replaces the former requirement that unvaccinated individuals wear well-fitted face masks in indoor public settings. 

But the updated CDPH guidance very clearly states that face masks are still required for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, in specified high-risk settings, which include dental offices and all other health care settings as defined by CDPH. That requirement is also consistent with the CDC’s guidance. 

Dental-office staff and patients must continue to wear face masks, dental offices must continue to screen patients for COVID-19 prior to their appointments, and personnel involved in aerosol-generating procedures should continue to wear an N95 or N95-equivalent respirator when involved in aerosol-generating procedures in accordance with the Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards. 

Additionally, COVID-19 vaccination and testing requirements for health care workers remain unchanged since the July 2020 public health order except in the counties of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Santa Clara.

Other indoor settings where masks will remain required for everyone include public transit, long-term care settings and homeless shelters. The mask mandate for indoor environments at K-12 schools and child care settings will end March 11, although CDPH continues to “strongly recommend” individuals continue to wear masks in those settings “as an important layer of protection.” And individuals and businesses always must follow the stricter applicable requirement, whether state, local or federal. Many California counties have dropped their local mask mandates in recent weeks.

Mask exemptions have not changed for certain individuals, such as those who are hearing-impaired, under age 2 or have certain medical or mental health conditions.

CDA Practice Support has downloadable templates, posters and other resources to help members communicate face-covering and other requirements to patients. 

COVID-19 screening required, temperature-checks optional

CDA continues to hear from dentists who want to know if they are still required to screen patients for COVID-19. Temperature-checks are no longer required, but dental practices must continue to screen patients and visitors for COVID-19 in compliance with the Cal/OSHA COVID-19 ETS. 

Teresa Pichay, CDA Practice Support regulatory compliance analyst, said now is not the time to ditch the office signage.

“Keep your notices about screening and mask requirements posted on your office door or near the entrance,” she advises practice owners. “Doing so may help you avoid confusion and confrontations and help you keep your focus on optimal patient care.”

In short, proper patient screening means (1) asking individuals how they are feeling and if they have experienced any illness, (2) asking individuals if they have been in close contact in the last few days with anyone who has COVID-19 or symptoms of COVID-19, and (3) observing individuals for signs of illness.

CDA Practice Support’s patient screening resource explains exactly what COVID-19 screening in the dental office entails, includes a definition of close contact and explains steps to follow based on how patients respond. 

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