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New COVID testing, return-to-work guidance for California dental practices

Also: Final Cal/OSHA emergency temporary standards effective May 7-Dec. 31

May 05, 2022 8340

Dentistry, defined as a “high-risk setting” by the California Department of Public Health, adheres to specific COVID-19 infection-control guidance from the state and, recently, the CDPH changed its recommendation for vaccinated workers in high-risk settings. 

The CDPH now recommends that vaccinated workers in high-risk settings be tested for COVID-19 immediately following a “close-contact” exposure and again three to five days after the exposure. New recommendations for work exclusion or restriction in these settings also apply. 

Separately, the fourth and final version of the Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards will take effect May 7 and end Dec. 31, 2022. The final standard updates testing and return-to-work requirements for workers to align with the CDPH’s latest guidance but otherwise brings no new requirements for employers. The ETS does reinforce and retain existing requirements.

Until version four takes effect May 7, dentists should continue to follow the current version of the ETS.

CDA has updated resources, linked later in this article, to help dentists comply with the revised testing and return-to-work requirements.

Updated quarantine and isolation guidance for high-risk settings

Previous CDPH guidance directed fully vaccinated individuals in high-risk settings to be tested on day five after a close-contact exposure with COVID-19.

Under recently updated state guidance, vaccinated and boosted individuals in high-risk settings, which include dental offices, should:

  • Test immediately after the close contact and then three to five days after the contact with day zero being the date of the contact. The individual may continue to work if they are asymptomatic and have a negative test result. 
  • Isolate for at least five days if the COVID-19 test is positive or if symptoms start.

Close contact means being within 6 feet of a COVID-19 case for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period within or overlapping with the “infectious period” without a respirator worn in accordance with a respiratory protection program.

Testing and quarantining is not required for individuals who had COVID-19 within the last 90 days unless symptoms start, in which case the individuals should isolate and get tested. Those individuals can continue working but must wear a face mask. As a reminder, everyone in dental and other health care settings must continue to wear masks.

Dentists can use CDA’s resource, Reporting Symptoms/Positive Test for COVID-19, to ensure they are following the current COVID-19 reporting and return-to-work requirements for employees. Originally published in 2020, the resource has been updated several times to reflect changing guidance.

Key elements of final Cal/OSHA COVID-19 ETS

Cal/OSHA adopted the first ETS in December 2020 to protect workers from hazards related to COVID-19.

Among other things, the ETS has required employers to develop a COVID-19 prevention plan and provide prevention training to employees. 

Effective May 7-Dec. 31, 2022, the final ETS:

  • Requires employers to be familiar with and follow current CDPH guidance for managing employees who are symptomatic or who have a close-contact exposure with COVID-19-positive individuals.
  • Reinforces that employers must provide face coverings and ensure they are worn by employees when required by orders from CDPH. CDPH requires all who are in a dental practice to wear face coverings unless there is a medical exemption.
  • Requires that an employee with valid mask exemption, who is unable to wear a nonrestrictive alternative, must be tested weekly for COVID-19.
  • Permits the use of independent verification of COVID-19 test results, such as a date-and-time-stamped photo. An employer or employer representative is no longer required to observe an over-the-counter test either in person or via remote live video.
  • Requires employers to provide COVID-19 testing to any employee, regardless of vaccination status, who has had a close-contact exposure or experiences symptoms at the workplace.
  • Allows any worker, regardless of their vaccination status, to request a respirator for voluntary use. Employer must provide effective training on its use and on how to perform a seal check.
  • Continues to require that employers continue to pay employees if they must leave the workplace due to a close-contact exposure at the workplace.

Dentists can use CDA’s updated COVID-19 Prevention Plan

CDA has updated its COVID-19 Prevention Plan to reflect the testing and return-to-work guidance in the new ETS that take effect May 7. Instead of developing a new written prevention plan for COVID-19, dentists can use this customizable plan as an addendum to the practice’s existing injury and illness prevention plan. Both satisfy the Cal/OSHA requirement. 

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