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Dentists and other health care providers can continue working under the latest stay-home order from the governor during the coronavirus pandemic.

Since Gov. Tim Walz halted all elective or non-emergency medical procedures during the pandemic, patient visits at Prior Lake and Savage clinics have slowed to almost nothing, providers said.

Dr. Steve Reinders of Complete Family Eyecare said he would tell patients this week that his optometry office will offer virtual visits over Zoom.

“It’s a wonderful tool that we can use right now, though it’s not ideal care,” Reinders said. “If people have red eye, pink eye or conjunctivitis and I don’t know why, I have to look at them with a microscope. But it’s something that we can offer in a time of crisis.”

Health care providers can continue working, and patients can continue visiting, under this week’s stay-home order from the governor. But Reinders said his office began limiting patient services and visits on March 18, with a more than 80% reduction in people in the office.

For the last week he’s been handling only situations like a sudden loss of vision or sudden double vision in person. On Wednesday, only two patients visited the office.

“We’re trying to minimize patient contact for the safety of staff and patients themselves,” Reinders said. “But it’s a weird balance we have to offer as much patient care as possible, because people have eye problems, and I want to be there for them.”

Dr. Melissa Zettler said Cherrywood Dental is trying to walk the same fine line of providing care without impacting the health of their patients or staff.

Patients this week were screened before they entered the office with questions on whether they traveled in the last two weeks or had been around anyone who was sick, measured their temperatures and gave them a peroxide mouth rinse ahead of their examination by a dentist.

Zettler said even if patients do return to the office in April, many of these changes will likely remain in place until the coronavirus is under better control.

“We want you to be safe, and we want to be safe,” Zettler said.

Neither office is involved in the frontline response to COVID-19, but they’re still feeling the strain that the fight is having across their industry. Zettler said earlier this month her office’s normal suppliers of gloves and face masks, used in every visit, began limiting what offices could buy.

Reinders said he’s pushed all of his routine appointments out until after April and will reevaluate in the next couple weeks whether they need to be pushed back farther. Zettler told her staff to reschedule everyone for mid-April.

For all the uncertainty about when patients can get back in for their next teeth cleaning or eye exam, Zettler and Reinders said so far they’ve heard no complaints about the changes. Zettler said some patients even thanked her staff when they got their appointment postponement call.

“If I ever complain about going to work, just slap me, because I just love and miss my job,” Zettler said. “It makes you really appreciate the nice place that you have to work in, the nice people you have to work with and the people you have to care for.”

Dan Holtmeyer contributed to this report.

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