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How’s the Economy Doing? Watch the Dentists

How’s the Economy Doing? Watch the Dentists


How’s the Economy Doing? Watch the Dentists

If not for coronavirus, you’d expect your local dentist office to be doing just fine.Dentist offices tend to be stable businesses that stick around for decades, unlike restaurants that open and close frequently. Dentists earn a healthy salary — a median of $159,000 — and offer services with no clear substitute. If you need your teeth cleaned or a cavity filled, the dentist is the only option.This makes them, in the eyes of some economists, the perfect barometer for gauging the country’s recovery from the shock of the pandemic.“If you look at your typical dentist office, nothing went wrong with their business model,” said Betsey Stevenson, an economics professor at the University of Michigan. “It’s just coronavirus that happened.”The dental industry has weathered an exaggerated version of the pandemic’s economic impact, experiencing both a steeper decline and a faster recovery than other sectors. Half of all dental workers lost their jobs in March and April as states closed businesses to slow the virus’s spread. The industry accounted for a staggering 35 percent of all health care jobs lost in those months, even though its workers make up just 6 percent of the industry, according to analysis of federal data by the nonprofit Altarum Institute.How long it takes those jobs to come back entirely will be a crucial indicator of whether Americans feel safe returning to normal activities, and if they have the economic means to do so.“I’m obsessed with dentists because, if the only thing we’re doing is putting the economy on pause, and then going back to normal, all of them should be coming back,” Ms. Stevenson said. “We’re not really recovered until all the dentists are back to work.”The dental industry halted much of its work on March 16, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Dental Association issued joint guidance against elective care. Some dentists say they closed even earlier as protective equipment became in short supply.By mid-April, 45 percent of dentists had laid off their entire staffs, according to data collected by the dental association. Only 13 percent remained fully open, with the remaining offices keeping a skeleton staff. Patient visits fell to 7 percent of normal rates.Marko Vujicic, the chief economist at the dental association, expected a slow return of workers into dentist offices. But regular surveys, sent out to 12,000 dental practices every two weeks, showed a relatively fast recovery.“My initial predictions were we’d have an elevator ride down and an escalator ride up,” he said. “But we’re actually seeing a pretty sharp acceleration of the jobs coming back.”By early May, 33 percent of dental offices had hired their full staffs back. The number rose to 58 percent by mid-May and, most recently, hit 77 percent the first week of June.New federal data released last week tells a similar story. The dental industry gained a quarter-million jobs in May, accounting for a full 10 percent of the net jobs added across the American economy.Federal stimulus programs may have played a key role in bringing dentists back to work. An estimated 37 percent of dental offices received funding through the Paycheck Protection Program, meant to help small businesses keep workers on payroll. Dentist practices that participated in the program were more likely to remain open than those that didn’t.As dentists head back to work, it’s unclear whether patients will follow. While most states have given dentist offices the go-ahead to reopen, patient volumes remain half of what they were before the pandemic.That suggests it isn’t just stay-at-home orders that have caused patients to cancel appointments. Some may have lost the dental insurance they used to get at work. Others may fear contracting the virus; they may feel safer putting off preventive care that has already waited months. Or they may question the value of regular cleanings altogether.Dentists understand why coming into their offices — even with the extra protective equipment they’ve invested in — may not be an appealing proposition.“You have to have someone right in your face,” said Jason Bastida, who practices primarily in Elmhurst, a neighborhood in Queens that was hard hit by coronavirus. “I get to wear an N95 mask, but you have to make yourself vulnerable by taking your mask off.”

Updated June 5, 2020

Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?
So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

How does blood type influence coronavirus?
A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?
The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?
Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?
Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?
States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?
Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

How can I protect myself while flying?
If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

Should I wear a mask?
The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

What should I do if I feel sick?
If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

He returned to work last week and has about a quarter of his regular patient volume. He graduated from dental school in 2017, and worries about how he’ll pay off his $330,000 in outstanding student debt if his caseload doesn’t pick up soon.Even after last month’s job gains, the dental industry still has 289,000 fewer workers than it did before the pandemic. That suggests to Ms. Stevenson, the economist, that the industry — and the rest of the American economy — is far from recovered.“The fact that dentistry employment is down 30 percent tells us that there is income loss, and there is fear,” she said. “We might not see employment in a retail store get back to the levels it had last year. But we should see dental employment get all the way back to where it was.”Employment in the dental industry — and the rest of the economy — is likely to remain constrained by other areas of the economy that don’t reopen as quickly. This is especially true for day cares and schools, many of which will not reopen full time in the fall.Abi Adeyeye, a 31-year-old pediatric dentist in Plano, Tex., was among those who returned to work in May. Over the past five weeks, she has been excited to see patient volume rebound to pre-coronavirus levels.“Before coronavirus, I had a cancellation rate around 30 percent,” she said. “Now nobody cancels. It seems like people are wanting to get out of the house and need something to do.”Even with a full patient schedule, her office is not at full employment. She used to have six dental assistants, but only four have come back to work. One was pregnant, and one couldn’t secure child care.The work of dentistry, at the same time, has only become more challenging. Dr. Adeyeye now wears an N95 respirator mask, a surgical mask, a face shield and a surgical cap.“The first two weeks I had these massive migraines,” she said. “Not only am I hot, I also can’t breath.” She’s slowly adjusting to the new dentistry: “My headaches have gone down to once a week.”

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