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Elizabeth Neal gives a cleaning during Give Kids a Smile.

By Rachel Mai
CCC Journalism Program

Elizabeth Neal is a full-time dental hygienist in a Camden County dental office, assisting the dentist for emergency patients while caring for her family during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The elderly and people with underlying health conditions are at a higher risk to contract the coronavirus, a highly contagious and often fatal illness that can spread from person to person, but everyone is at risk of getting it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Social distancing is recommended to lower the risk of spreading COVID-19 and the CDC urges people to “get deliveries and takeout and limit in-person contact as much as possible.”

The number of cases in Camden County has been increasing daily. “The aggregate number of confirmed positive cases is 2,827 in Camden County today (April 27) and 123 total fatalities,” according to the Camden County website.

COVID-19 is affecting all walks of life. Students have switched to online schooling, business owners are closing their doors and health-care workers, including Elizabeth, are risking their lives. “Everything has changed at work. We are only seeing emergency patients and we have to ask them the pre-procedure COVID-19 questions,” Elizabeth says. The questions include, “Have you had a fever in the past few weeks” and “Have you been in close contact with someone you know has had COVID-19?”

When patients come in the dental office, Elizabeth, a graduate of the Camden County College dental hygiene program, must take their temperature and the dentist can see only one patient at a time. Elizabeth says, “I can only work as an assistant to the dentist because cleanings are considered elective.” Both Elizabeth and the dentist are the only ones working in the dental office and the hours vary weekly, depending on the number of dental emergencies.

Hospitals have reported a lack of supplies such as ventilators and N95 masks. “The governor mandated that we keep track of our inventory but he didn’t request to have us send any. We have to protect ourselves and the patients,” Elizabeth says. Elizabeth’s dental office was low on N95 masks but the dentist ordered more supplies.

About how patients are handling the quarantine, Elizabeth says, “I can tell they are nervous. It (COVID-19) is the only topic of conversation.”

Elizabeth states she longs to go back to a regular work schedule and patients. “I really miss my patients and our old conversations. I hope they are all safe at home.”

She says she believes the regulations during the pandemic will benefit everyone in the future. “Infection control will be extra, extra precautionary from now on. Life will never go back to normal.”

At home, Elizabeth enjoys baking banana bread and brownies, writing and redecorating her house. Recently, she has been binge watching “Game of Thrones” as well. After the pandemic regulations subside, Elizabeth says she plans to travel again. “That’s the one thing I really miss, traveling. I want to go back to Barcelona.”

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