On August 4th, The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) updated its COVID-19 guidelines for dental practices. If you’ve not had occasion to consult the guidelines, you should; you’ll potentially save yourself considerable liability by ensuring that your practice is as consistent with the recommended practices as possible.
To say that the guidelines are extensive would be a gross understatement. However, as comprehensive as they are, they fall somewhat short in a few areas. One of those is the question of airflow management in the practice.
What’s In Your Ductwork?
HVAC ducts are one of those things that no one thinks about until there’s a problem. It’s an “out of sight, out of mind” issue; as long as the air keeps flowing the way it should, we don’t think about what the air might be carrying.
In this pandemic, the first thought would be COVID-19. But ductwork, including registers, that aren’t cleaned on a regular basis can accumulate significant amounts of dust. Ducts that are exposed to high humidity can cause moist air to condense and remain with the ducts, potentially leading to mold formation.
Almost any airborne particles, regardless of type, are potential disease vectors for the COVID-19 virus. The virus is encapsulated, meaning that it can survive in the open air and on surfaces much like the flu virus, to take just one example. And since most practices of moderate size will have one or at most two HVAC systems, any contaminants in the duct work have the potential to spread throughout the practice.
Even if you have HEPA filters in place, air moving through supply ducts, as opposed to return ducts, has the potential to spread airborne contaminants.
If you haven’t had the ducts cleaned since the beginning of the pandemic, it might be time to have them inspected and cleaned if necessary – or just as a precaution. This comes under the heading of “cheap insurance.” You’ve no doubt read about practices that had contaminated water supply lines and wound up being fined and/or sued.
Clean? Yes. Disinfect? Maybe.
According to the National Air Duct Cleaners Association(NADCA), “Numerous antimicrobials on the market have been approved for use in HVAC systems and in HVAC ductwork. These could be helpful… in treating HVAC systems if these products are used in accordance with the law and the instructions on the label and if these products are specifically stated by the manufacturer to be effective against COVID-19.”
However, as dental practices know well by now, dealing with ambient virus particles is a never-ending task. NADCA adds, “It is also important to note that cleaned and treated surfaces can become re-contaminated in minutes if a COVID-19 infected individual is present and sneezes or coughs without controlling the droplet spread.”
Your practice’s ductwork may be just fine, but this is one of those “ounce of prevention” cases. The precautions you take can and should be used to promote your practice. Your patients and your staff will thank you.
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