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Being involved in clinical activities did not increase risk of COVID-19, study says

A recent study reported that participating in patient-facing dental clinical activities did not pose an additional risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection compared with other in-person activities, given that dental professionals followed strict infection control measures. (Image: AlessandroBiascioli/Shutterstock)

BOSTON, US: During the pandemic, the majority of dental professionals had to cease their dental activities in order to slow down the spread of COVID-19. The rationale behind the decision was the belief that dental professionals were at an increased risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2 owing to aerosol generation during dental procedures, which increased the risk of infection. However, a new study has recently demonstrated that, contrary to popular belief, dental professionals were not more susceptible to infection when performing clinical activities in a clinical care setting when wearing standard personal protective equipment and participating in comprehensive SARS-CoV-2 surveillance testing.

The study was conducted at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM), which offers direct patient care, between August 2020 and February 2022. As part of the mandatory testing programme at the university, a total of 390 on-site HSDM faculty members, staff and students participated in regular surveillance testing from one to three times per week, depending on risk status. It found that the overall asymptomatic test positivity rate was only 0.27%. Additionally, the data showed that the mean test positivity rate was 0.25% among those who were involved in patient-facing clinical activities compared with 0.36% among those who were not involved in any clinical activities. This suggests that those working in non-clinical roles contracted SARS-CoV-2 infections more often than those working in clinical roles.

“Being involved in clinical activities did not increase the risk of COVID-19; whereas individuals involved in clinical activities performed a higher number of tests per week on average, test positivity rate remained lower than non-clinical individuals, ensuring the safety of both patients and practitioners in clinical settings,” said lead author Dr Sung Eun Choi, an instructor in oral health policy and epidemiology at HSDM.

“We were pleased that the comprehensive SARS-CoV-2 surveillance programme at Harvard kept our community safe,” said co-author Dr Giang T. Nguyen, associate provost for campus health and well-being and executive director of Harvard University Health Services. “The work done at the dental school during the pandemic demonstrated that the school delivered clinical care in a safe manner, even in a setting with relatively high density of students, staff and faculty on campus,” he noted.

In light of the findings, the researchers suggested that the implementation of an adaptive testing cadence that is based on the risk status of individuals may help to effectively reduce the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection within dental clinical care academic settings. Additionally, they believe that comprehensive COVID-19 testing allows for the timely detection of SARS-CoV-2 infection and reduces the risk of infection within these settings.

“The results of this study underscore that a dental academic setting is safe for students, clinicians and staff,” said Dr William V. Giannobile, dean of HSDM.

The study, titled “Evaluation of comprehensive COVID-19 testing program outcomes in a US dental clinical care academic setting”, was published online on 13 December 2022 in JAMA Network Open.

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