Coronavirus: Manitoba Dental Association warns members after COVID-19 outbreak at B.C. conference

At least some Manitoba dentists attended an early March dentistry conference in Vancouver now linked to about 20 cases of COVID-19 in British Columbia and about a dozen more cases outside of that province.

The Manitoba Dental Association could not confirm the number of Manitoba dentists who attended the conference, but the association took immediate steps to alert its members of their potential exposure, MDA president Dr. Marc Mollot said in a phone interview.

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The MDA was contacted by British Columbia public health officials and Manitoba Health after authorities learned a person with COVID-19 had attended the conference, said Mollot — the MDA is the legislative body that regulates dentists and dental assistants in the province.

Vancouver health officials sent an alert about a sick attendee on March 12, noting at the time the risk was extremely low. The person with COVID-19 had only attended the three-day Pacific Dental Conference from 2-4 p.m. March 6.

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“We immediately informed our membership via e-alert of their need to self-isolate,” Mollot said.

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That alert went to the approximately 750 dentists and 1,500 dental assistants the MDA regulates, Mollot said, directing anyone who attended the conference to self-isolate for 14 days.

However, Mollot said, because attendance is voluntary, the MDA does not know the number of Manitoban dentists who might have gone, adding he did not want to speculate about the potential number of Manitoban attendees.

But some Manitoban dentists did attend, Mollot said.

The MDA does not track which dentists go to any given conference.

“We’ve been working with the Pacific Dental Conference to try to determine that,” Mollot said of the number of Manitobans who attended. “It’s very difficult for us in Manitoba to track which members were there on [March 6 between 2-4 p.m.].”

All attendees were warned to self-isolate by Vancouver health officials too.

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“For dentists to have it touch so close and have an identified risk, it certainly makes us feel a deep level of concern,” Mollot said.

“That’s why we immediately reached out to notify our membership and have them take the appropriate steps.”

As a precaution, the MDA immediately moved to work from home after it received word of the outbreak at the convention, Mollot said.

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The massive annual conference typically sees around 50-100 Manitobans attend, one dentist formerly associated with the MDA told Global News.

Dental professionals from across western Canada, the northwestern United States and other nations go to the conference, Mollot added. More than 15,000 people went to the conference this year.

B.C.’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry confirmed the link between the approximately 32 COVID-19 cases and the dental conference at a Monday briefing in that province.

“It’s a deep concern and I would echo the deep concern that all of us have right now, in the anxiety of just being self-isolated or just trying to function within this new normal,” Mollot said of the potential exposure of some of his members to COVID-19.

“None of us are ever fully prepared for the concept of a pandemic.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Manitoba dentists advised to cancel non-urgent appointments

The MDA urged the suspension of non-essential and elective dental work in Manitoba Tuesday.

The decision to suspend non-emergency work came after the association consulted with provincial health officials and suppliers, who have warned the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) used by dentists and other health-care providers is running low, Mollot said Tuesday.

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