A Santa Fe dental practice reopened Monday following a nearly two-week closure due to confirmed cases of COVID-19 for the doctor and one of his assistants.
Dentist Jared French said he saw one patient Sept. 14, a Monday, and then felt an itch in his throat and went home.
He took a test that afternoon to determine if he had contracted COVID-19, French said, and after it came back positive two days later, he closed his practice.
A patient, an assistant and a dental hygienist who were at the office Sept. 16 before the closure all tested negative.
“It’s a dicey situation. You have to open back up, but you want to protect people,” French said. “We were able to prevent transmission. In the end, that’s what really matters.”
Under guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for health care workers, French was not required to wait 14 days before returning to work. The CDC’s symptom-based guidelines say it’s safe to return to work if at least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared, at least 24 hours have passed since the patient last experienced fever and other symptoms have improved.
The doctor’s wife, Lara French, said she believes she might have become infected with COVID-19 while visiting family in Utah earlier this month and then infected her husband while she was quarantining after her return.
“It’s hard to know,” Lara French said. “I was only in close contact with a few family members there, but I think that’s where I got it.”
Maddy Hayden, a spokeswoman with the New Mexico Environment Department, said the agency performed a rapid response at the dental office, which involves ensuring employers are following COVID-19 safety guidelines. Monitors determined a further investigation by the Occupational Health and Safety Bureau was not warranted, Hayden said.
During the roughly 48 hours between when the time French left the office with a symptom of the illness and the time he closed the practice, a dental hygienist — who did not work at the office Sept. 14 — saw patients at the practice, the dentist said.
French said he felt comfortable leaving the practice open while he awaited his test result because people who had close contact with him were isolating and the facility had been following health, safety and cleaning guidelines.
“We followed policies and tried to be reasonable, and that’s the decision we made,” French said. “I think the proof is in the pudding, as there was no transmission.”
At least one patient thought French should have closed the practice sooner or at least alerted patients about the possible infection.
“If someone had told me he was sick and went to get tested, I would have changed my appointment,” said Harriet Schreiner, who visited the office the morning of Sept. 16, a Wednesday.
She believes French put her and others in harm’s way by not disclosing he had left the office two days prior with COVID-19 symptoms.
“Nobody said anything to me about the doctor testing positive,” Schreiner said, adding, “I think that was negligent.”