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Q&A: Coronavirus (COVID-19) Shutdowns & Veterinary Practices

Lance M. Roasa, DVM, MS, JD, The Roasa Law Group, Omaha, Nebraska

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Published Tuesday, March 24, 2020, at 5:00 PM EST

As shelter in place is mandated in more states every day, veterinary teams face questions about what these mandates mean for their practices. Lance Roasa, practicing lawyer and veterinary practice owner, decodes some of these mandates for veterinary practices.

Are veterinary practices considered essential services in a “shelter-in-place” situation? Who decides? Is that decision made on a state-by-state basis?

Short answer: it depends. The designation of “essential” depends on the exact order issued by the state and local governments. The American regulatory system is a highly fragmented patchwork of laws and regulations. State, city, county, and local public health departments that have varied responsibilities in each state, and the determination depends on the exact definition of “essential services” that are exempted from the shelter-in-place orders.

Being deemed as an essential service and being exempt from mandatory shut-downs does not mandate that a practice stays open. If deemed necessary for the health of the team and the public, practice leadership may choose to close and shelter in place.

San Francisco’s Public Health Order is an example of veterinary practices deemed essential and exempted from shelter-in-place measures. New York’s Non-Essential Work Mandate is an example of veterinary practices initially being not exempt but later deemed essential through further guidance.

As more shelter-in-place public health orders are enacted by the patchwork of local governments, veterinarians should read orders closely and look for such terms as Animal Health Services, Veterinary Practices, or Veterinarians included in cited healthcare operations.

Even if veterinarians are not included in an original public health order, those that are included in the food supply, public health, or other human health related services would have a good possibility to apply for an exception to the order. Although the contact for an exception will vary by state, a good place to start is local law enforcement or the local public health department.

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Are veterinary team members, including veterinarians, considered healthcare workers?

Veterinary team members are not traditionally considered healthcare workers under CDC or Department of Labor guidance; however, since COVID-19 has zoonotic origins, veterinarians could conceivably be wrapped into specific guidance. Without specific citations of veterinarians or veterinary practices, there should not be an assumption that veterinary team members are included in details pertaining to healthcare workers. 

For global readers, a calculator to convert laboratory values, dosages, and other measurements to SI units can be found here.

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