COVID-19

Months into the pandemic, dentists are finding their new normal

Erika Beras Sep 15, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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Dentists in protective gear treat a patient. Oscar del Pozo/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Months into the pandemic, dentists are finding their new normal

Erika Beras Sep 15, 2020
Dentists in protective gear treat a patient. Oscar del Pozo/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

A few months ago Washington, D.C., periodontist Sally Cram was just getting used to being back in practice full-time. Cram had spent around $20,000 outfitting her office for the pandemic: air purifiers, sneeze guards, a washer and dryer for scrubs. Since then, she says the cost of personal protective equipment — masks, gloves, gowns — has gone up.  

“Prior to all the COVID things, I wore those [gowns] anyway when I was doing periodontal surgery, and those disposable gowns were probably less than a dollar,” Cram said. “Now I’ve seen them advertised on some websites and different places for $5 and $10 apiece.”  

Several of the dentists I spoke to mentioned that PPE costs have spiked. But supply has caught up to demand, and commercial laundry services have ramped up.

Because of the way Cram’s appointments are staggered, Cram’s patient load is at 70% of what it was before the pandemic. That’s just below the national average of 80%, which is where Colorado Springs pediatric dentist Jeff Kahl’s practice is. 

“It’s not perfect by any means, but certainly much better than it was,” he said. 

But business is booming for some dentists including Kirk Norbo in Purcellville, Virginia. Since he reopened his practice in early May, he’s hired two new assistants because so many patients are coming in.   

“I know August numbers were ahead of where we were last year at this time, which says a lot,” he said. 

But even though patients are lining up to come in, Atlanta-area periodontist Peter Shatz said they’re way more worried about their finances than they were before the pandemic. He increasingly has to offer patients lower-cost alternatives to treatments like implants because they’re out of work, their insurance has changed and they’re paying out-of-pocket.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?

Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

What’s going to happen to retailers, especially with the holiday shopping season approaching?

A report out recently from the accounting consultancy BDO USA said 29 big retailers filed for bankruptcy protection through August. And if bankruptcies continue at that pace, the number could rival the bankruptcies of 2010, after the Great Recession. For retailers, the last three months of this year will be even more critical than usual for their survival as they look for some hope around the holidays.

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