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COVID-19

Months into the pandemic, dentists are finding their new normal

Erika Beras Sep 15, 2020
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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
Heard on:
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

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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