By A. Isabel Garcia, D.D.S., M.P.H., Dean of the UF College of Dentistry
Every day first responders put themselves in harm’s way to ensure our safety. Doctors, nurses, technicians, pharmacists, infection control experts, and the whole healthcare team are on the front lines fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic. The work of public health and safety workers – our police force, firefighters, the entire food industry and many other people working behind the scenes – is critical to keeping us healthy and our society functioning. These are our community’s frontline, the people who expose themselves to risk daily to ensure we are safe, fed and cared for.
And I am grateful.
I have spent much of my 44-year career working in public health at the local, state and national levels including the U.S. Public Health Service and the National Institutes of Health. I have followed the COVID-19 pandemic through the lens of a “public healther,” and an academic leader, administrator and community member. As dean of the UF College of Dentistry, I realized the impact the approaching pandemic would have on our school’s education, research and patient care missions. I applauded UF’s early decisions to send students home and encourage us to work from home whenever possible.
With safety as our top priority, our college has continued to provide emergency oral care for patients throughout Gainesville and beyond during this crisis. We added a video appointment service, or “teledentistry,” to triage patients, prescribe medications and help our medical colleagues by minimizing the use of hospital emergency departments for dental problems.
We initiated “universal masking” for everyone in our facilities to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Along with greater PPE protections, we added environmental and physical controls in clinics to minimize aerosols and contamination. As we begin to provide comprehensive dental services in the next few weeks, we will do so under strict protocols to minimize the risk of transmission of the novel coronavirus or any other pathogens to patients or to providers. We will continue to practice social distancing in all of our settings – administrative, teaching and research as long as it is needed.
In early April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged that everyone wear a cloth face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 when going out in public. As a public health professional, I quickly adopted this practice – understanding that it protects others and reduces the burden on our first responders.
In the weeks ahead, as our state and the rest of the country relaxes stay-in-place orders and other restrictions, it is even more important to continue measures that help slow the spread of COVID-19. Wearing a mask is a simple and highly effective infection control measure. It isn’t a sign of weakness or fear. It is a show of support, solidarity and respect for those who serve us all. I will continue to do my part by covering my face at work and in public.
I cover my face in gratitude to our first responders, and ask that everyone in our community join me.
I am a Grateful Gator.
Thank you to Kimberly Sibille, Ph.D., an associate professor affiliated with our School of Advanced Dental Sciences, for her inspiration to share these thoughts and to Angela Mickle, a staff member in Community Dentistry and Behavioral Science, for creating the Grateful Gator mask.
On May 4, an Alachua County order went into effect requiring that everyone wear masks in public places as a safety measure to help protect against the spread of COVID-19.