While no one is ready to declare the COVID-19 pandemic over, the strict COVID-19 mitigation measures that have been in place for much of the past year are being lifted as the vaccines become available to everyone.
As in many industries, doctors, hospitals, dentists and veterinarians implemented safety measures to keep patients safe during the pandemic. While some protocols may be rolled back, some may become permanent.
Northwestern Medicine, which includes Delnor Hospital, hasn’t made any formal decisions about the permanent adoption of COVID-19 protocols, but will continue to follow the guidance of the CDC, Illinois Department of Public Health and local health departments. As of now, universal masking is required, as are physical distancing and hand hygiene, even for fully-vaccinated individuals.
Northwestern implemented a strict visitors policy when the pandemic hit last year. Recently, the medical system has taken a more flexible approach, and may continue to implement stricter measures like limiting younger visitors or limit the number of visitors when warranted.
According to an email from a Northwestern spokesperson, the decisions are made to protect the patients.
“These general approaches are permanent features of the Patients First philosophy at Northwestern. As we monitor the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community, visitor policies continue to evolve at Northwestern Medicine to ensure a safe, trusted and comfortable care environment for all patients, visitors, physicians and staff. One designated visitor at a time may be in a patient’s room during visiting hours for inpatients not being treated for COVID-19. Additional visitors are allowed but will need to wait in approved locations. More information is available at Visitor Restrictions Due to COVID-19. Our visitor policies are subject to change during the COVID-19 pandemic and flu season,” the email stated.
Two initiatives that were frequently used during the height of the pandemic are mobile check-in and telemedicine. Northwestern began to use both prior to the onset of COVID-19, and expect both to continue permanently.
“Northwestern Medicine began exploring the use of telemedicine long before the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in the arenas of stroke care, cardiology and mental health. The use of telemedicine greatly accelerated during the pandemic with telemedicine services available at primary care and specialty offices. With strict lock-down measures no longer in effect, and well established programs to ensure safety at hospitals and physician offices, the percentage of telemedicine visits has dropped. However, we do anticipate that telemedicine will continue to be offered for patient convenience when appropriate,” the email stated.
The MyNM app allows patients to check-in and receive messages, and will continue to be used, primarily for patient convenience. Patients can pay bills, register for appointments and complete questionnaires in a contactless way.
Local dental offices are also looking to maintain sanitizing protocols.
Molly McCoy of Khanna Dentistry in Geneva, said their office has always kept sanitizing protocols in place.
“In our dental office, you are super super safe. We always wear masks, gloves, sanitize in the autoclave – that’s just how dentistry is,” McCoy said. “I can’t speak for every office, but we definitely added an air purifier in each room.”
As far as different protocols, McCoy said before COVID-19 they never took temperatures before, and now they do. And they call their patients to come in with a limitation of one person in the waiting to maintain social distancing.
“That’s changed,” McCoy said. “We will have them fill out a COVID questionnaire. And we use Peridex rinse – ours is a prescription strength rinse. And we have people wash their hands and we have hand sanitizers around the office.”
The instruments have been sanitized as always have been for years, and staff wears gowns, gloves and face masks as they have always done in the dental office, McCoy said.
Khanna Dental’s website also links to a statement last December from Eric Larson, executive director of the Illinois State Dental Society in Springfield about COVID protocols in dentistry.
“In the early 1980s, the emergence of HIV and AIDS forced all health care providers to take extra precautions – especially in dental offices, where potential exposure from the nature of the oral care we provide is highest,” according to Larson’s statement.
“Detailed infection prevention strategies were developed, our staffs and dentists went through comprehensive training and education, and we embraced safety standards by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration,” according to Larson’s statement. “Today, the protective masks, gloves and gowns we have been wearing all this time and the strict attention to cleaning and disinfecting has become commonplace in health care facilities as we all fight this insidious disease.”
Dentists’ offices implemented infection prevention and control guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – which included the protocols McCoy described: Social distancing, having patients wait in their vehicles for their appointments, no more toys or magazines in waiting rooms, lots of hand sanitizer, dentists and assistants wearing more masks, gloves and other coverings to reduce exposure.