Dentists, doctors can reopen offices using guidelines to prevent spread of coronavirus

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Gov. Jay Inslee, center, talks at a press conference about the coronavirus outbreak in downtown Seattle today.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee today announced new guidelines for nonurgent medical procedures to resume, such as visits to dentists and family medical practitioners

The guidelines are intended to protect against outbreaks of the new coronavirus.

The plan calls for doctor’s offices and dental practices to have enough personal protective equipment for their staffers, put in place social-distancing policies and check visitors and patients for symptoms of COVID-19.

Inslee’s guidelines also require those businesses to develop plans that would let them expand or contract their work based on whether and how a COVID-19 outbreak is affecting their community.

That part of the plan is intended to avoid strain on the health care system if or when a COVID-19 outbreak occurs. The guidelines also urge practitioners to use telemedicine if it is appropriate.

Health care providers able to meet the new safety guidelines can begin reopening immediately.

Not all health care services may decide to completely open back up, however, since one of the guidelines involves whether regional emergency health care providers are ready to handle any COVID-19 outbreak.

The plan announced today envisions hospitals and local health jurisdictions to keep additional capacity in the health care system until there is an effective treatment, a vaccine or herd immunity for COVID-19, and until supplies of protective equipment for health care workers is more readily available.

As the outbreak rapidly spread in March, restrictions on nonurgent medical procedures and examinations were put in place to conserve scarce amounts of protective equipment for health care employees, such as masks, gowns and gloves.

Reducing nonurgent procedures was also geared toward cutting the spread of the disease and allowing health care workers and equipment such as ventilators to go toward the COVID-19 response.

But those restrictions have also taken a toll on people seeking general medical care and, like other industries hurt by the coronavirus restriction, put an economic dent in the health care sector.

Over the past few weeks, Inslee has begun lifting restrictions on a host of industries and activities — from construction and curbside delivery by retail stores, to reopening hunting, fishing, golfing and many state parks.

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