Many dental offices won’t reopen May 1 due to PPE shortages

Coronavirus

Rafia Dental in Portland is committed to providing its staff 'the same level of safety and protection' as frontline medical workers

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Dental offices in Oregon will be given the green light on Friday to reopen but many won’t be ready to start seeing patients.

Gov. Kate Brown announced last week dentists could resume non-emergency appointments starting May 1. 

On Thursday, the Oregon Health Authority released safety guidelines for dental offices to follow in order to reopen. Offices must have a two-week supply of PPE on hand, follow strict infection control practices and make sure patients have access to pre- and post-operative visits before staff can move forward with a procedure. 

But having enough PPE to reopen is a problem for many dental offices, including Rafia Dental in Portland’s Pearl District. 

Dr. Kaz Rafia has owned the practice for 15 years and, like most dentists, never thought a global pandemic would force him to close his doors. 

But when that day came last month, Rafia immediately brought his staff together for a virtual Zoom meeting. 

“We made a promise to them that we wouldn’t open back up until we could afford to provide them the same level of safety and protection our front-line medical partners—comrades—are having,” Rafia said. 

The safety and protection he promised means his office must be equipped with enough PPE to meet OHA and CDC standards. 

But Rafia Dental donated most of their PPE supply in March. So instead of rushing to reopen, Dr. Rafia and his team decided against seeing patients for another two-and-a-half weeks. 

“It was a really easy decision,” he told KOIN 6 News. “We were like, okay that’s great, but operationally we’re going to stick it out until we can provide you that safety level.”  

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But tracking down adequate PPE has been one of the biggest concerns for many dental offices since the reopening announcement. 

“There really aren’t a lot of resources out there unless you dig for them,” Rafia said. “Medical suppliers can’t really tell us what the pipeline looks like right now but there are some coming.” 

Rafia said Multnomah County has been helpful with the process. 

“They are taking applications for re-allocation of the resources that were donated,” he explained. 

Rafia said his practice is committed to providing hygienists and dental assistants with N95 masks, face shields, gloves and gowns. He also plans to have air purifiers in every room and the waiting area will be arranged in a way that maintains social distancing. Each patient will also be asked about their recent travel history and will have their temperature taken before being admitted for an appointment. 

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