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Maryland veterinary clinic using 'curbside check-in' to stem coronavirus

The clinic is keeping pet owners out of the exam room, but still in touch.

Amid the closure of restaurants and restrictions on nursing homes, veterinary practices are also starting to feel the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There's no way to be able to see a dog (or) cat from home,” explained Laila Bolsteins, a vet technician at the Laytonsville Veterinary Practice in Montgomery County, Maryland.

“So the best we can do is see the animal without the people present, just to reduce some of that human contact,” she said.

The clinic instituted the new protocol on Tuesday, instructing its clients to call or text when they arrive. Veterinary staffers then meet the animal’s owner at their car and bring the animal inside, where, Bolsteins said, the appointment continues on as normal.

Well, almost normal.

“Hello?” asked Dr. Claire Godwin as she began to examine a small black and white Schnauzer on her exam table.

“Hello!” responded a deep, scratchy voice from a cell phone speaker sitting a few inches away. The voice belonged to Donald Mowbray, who was sitting just outside the building in his silver sedan.

“Hi Mr. Mowbray, how are you?” asked Dr. Goodwin, as she began to inspect the dog’s ears and teeth.

“Fine, Dr. Godwin. It’s good to hear from you,” responded Mowbray over the phone.

Bolsteins said that having pet owners speak to the doctors while they wait outside keeps them apprised during the examination, which helps them feel like they’re in the room with their pet.

“[They] can talk through any issues they might be having, or why they are here for the appointment … as well as any after-appointment thoughts, if they need any refills on medication or if they need any other appointments scheduled,” said Bolsteins.

Mowbray, who at 82 years old is at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, said he is impressed that the veterinary practice is working hard to keep him safe.

And because "we’re not in with the doctor,” said Mowbray, that allows the staff members to keep themselves safe too.

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control said they had not received any reports of pets or other animals contracting the COVID-19 virus, but cautioned that further research is necessary to understand how animals could be affected.

The American Veterinary Medical Association has released guidelines for pet owners who have contracted the virus.

“Out of an abundance of caution, it is recommended that those ill with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus," the AVMA posted on its website. "Have another member of your household take care of walking, feeding, and playing with your pet. If you have a service animal or you must care for your pet, then wear a facemask; don’t share food, kiss, or hug them; and wash your hands before and after any contact with them.”

To protect themselves and their furry clients, the Maryland clinic’s staff is taking steps to limit cross-contamination. But just like doctors and nurses who treat humans, staffers there are running into equipment supply issues.

“We are trying to be much less wasteful, while still being cautious of not spreading germs," explained Bolsteins."So we tried to switch up which sprays we're using, like bleach, and then specific cleaners for the cages.”

“And we try to waste a little less in terms of masks for humans. We try to label them, write our name on them, so we can keep our own little personal stash of things that are safe to use," she added. "It's just been something to keep in the back of our minds that we don't have necessarily an unlimited amount of resources like we have had in the past."

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