AFGE is calling on the Department of Affairs to change its dental practices at a VA dental clinic in Chicago which has the highest number of active COVID-19 cases among VA facilities nationwide. One employee at this facility has succumbed to the virus.
After being closed for two months, the dental clinic at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago reopened but failed to implement safety precautions to protect veterans against COVID-19 as recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
CDC recommends that dental facilities avoid aerosol generating procedures whenever possible and if they must be performed, they should ideally take place in an airborne infection isolation room. CDC also recommended facilities consider the use of a portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter while the patient is undergoing, and immediately following, an aerosol generating procedure and provide treatments in individual patient rooms with a closed door.
But that’s not what the North Chicago dental clinic is doing.
Upon arriving for treatment, veterans are screened and have their temperatures taken. They are then brought to an open area – often called “bays” – where there are five socially-distanced chairs and dental work is performed. Although there are partial partitions, the veterans are still breathing in the same air with no special filters or additional protections. For 30 minutes to an hour, they are more vulnerable to COVID-19 through aerosol or airborne transmission, due to breathing in particles released from other veterans’ mouths during treatment.
“Scientists have told us that the bits of fluids can linger in the air for minutes to hours. There is no reason why veterans should have their teeth drilled and cleaned while other veterans are eight to tenfeet away with their mouths open, breathing in those same particles,” AFGE President Everett Kelley said.
“It is unacceptable that the VA is putting our nation’s heroes at this unnecessary risk to contract the virus. The VA must follow CDC guidance and address this issue to slow the spread of COVID-19 in North Chicago and in their facilities across the country,” he added.
The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health recently ordered the San Quentin State Prison’s dental clinic to cease many of its procedures, citing that aerosol-generating procedures and others have contributed to the spread of COVID-19 within the prison.