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As Iowa Continues To Reopen, Dentists Are Among Those Struggling To Access Coronavirus Testing

Evelien Noens via flickr creative commons
Dentists are among those struggling to access coronavirus testing as they begin reopening their practices to the public.

As Gov. Kim Reynolds continues to reopen parts of the state’s economy, she’s touting Iowa’s resources for coronavirus testing. But among those still struggling to get tested are dentists, who were able to start reopening their practices as of last week.

The Iowa Dental Association estimates that less than half of the state’s practices will reopen this week, as offices gauge the needs and constraints of their employees, train them on new policies and protocols, and work to secure adequate PPE, as Reynolds’ proclamation requires.

IDA Executive Director Laurie Traetow says that while she's not aware of any efforts by the state to make testing available to dentists and staff who are asymptomatic, she says practitioners are working to adhere to the state’s guidelines for reopening and are “doing everything they can to protect their staff and patients."

“Every day as staffers enter dental offices, their temperatures are taken and they are asked if they have a cough or shortness of breath,” Traetow said in an email. “If a staff member has any of those symptoms, they will be asked to go home and contact a medical provider for further instructions.”

The state’s guidelines do not include mandatory coronavirus testing for staff before reopening.

One of the practices that has remained closed is Dr. Ann Connors’ office in Iowa City. While dentists don’t have to test their staff, Connors is set on testing all 10 of her employees before they start seeing patients again.

“I want to start with certainly a baseline that my folks are not infected or do not have the virus,” Connors said. “Then if someone does become sick we can quarantine and we can also trace.”

Some studies have shown that dentists are among the most at-risk professions for coronavirus exposure.

According to current state testing criteria, Iowans who are not showing symptoms of the virus, like Connors’ staffers, do not qualify for the state’s testing program. Connors says she’s reached out to the Iowa Department of Public Health, the Iowa Dental Board and Gov. Reynolds’ office for direction on how to access testing for her employees, but says no one could tell her where to go.

“No one could tell me where I could get tests,” Connors said, an experience she found frustrating. “I certainly was very surprised by the lack of information to give not just to the general public, but a healthcare professional who…who has been told, ‘yes, go ahead, you can open up’.”

In a response to a request from IPR, Amy McCoy, a spokesperson for IDPH said that dentists could work with “commercial or clinical laboratories” or “health systems” to arrange their own testing. McCoy did not respond to requests for a list of specific healthcare providers that Iowa dental practices could approach.

There has been extensive reporting on the widespread shortages of testing supplies, as hospitals, public agencies and governors say they’re forced to compete against each other to secure their own contracts for limited resources.

Connors says she has postponed her initial reopening date due to the lack of testing. She hopes more resources are available by next month, when she plans to begin welcoming patients back.