Washington dentists, doctors can expand access to patients

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OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Monday that dentists and doctors’ offices can reopen immediately for non-urgent treatment if coronavirus safety protocols are in place, including adequate personal protective equipment for workers.

Each medical or dental practice will determine whether it is ready to expand access to patients, and will have to implement policies including limiting the number of people in waiting rooms and conducting temperature checks. Each facility also must develop a plan that allows for a possible reduction of services if there is an increase of COVID-19 in its region that puts a strain on the health care system.

“It’s critical that providers use good judgment in expanding access to elective care,” he said.

Washington’s stay-at-home order — in place since March 23 — has been extended through at least May 31 and the state is in the early stages of a four-phase lifting of restrictions. Inslee has already eased some restrictions across the state, allowing the resumption of existing construction, fishing and golf, and the reopening of most state parks, as well as curbside pickup for retail sales.

There will be a minimum of three weeks between each phase, but rural counties that meet certain metrics are allowed to apply to speed up the process. On Monday, Asotin County became the 10th county given the go-ahead to enter the second phase of reopening. Among the things allowed in phase two are hair salons and barbers reopening and restaurants at half capacity, with tables of no larger than five people.

Inslee said that while he hopes the rest of the state can move to the second phase on June 1, “we cannot guarantee when that will happen.”

“That will depend on the status of the virus,” he said. “If we were to make the wrong decision, a premature decision, this thing could just bounce right back up.”

More than 18,600 people in Washington state have tested positive for the coronavirus and at least 1,002 have died. The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most patients, and the vast majority recover. But it is highly contagious and can cause severe illness and death in some patients, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.

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