New California Study Examines the Safety of Cosmetic Surgery During the Pandemic

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A recent study conducted in Los Angeles points to impressive numbers in regard to the safety of cosmetic surgery during the height of the pandemic. The findings show the rate of COVID-19 infection was reassuringly miniscule, however, the study’s lead authors caution that we shouldn’t let the data make us complacent.  

What the Data Means
The study, which was just accepted to be published in the prestigious Aesthetic Surgery Journal, was conducted by the Los Angeles Society of Plastic Surgeons. From late May to late July, board-certified plastic surgeons in Los Angeles County were asked to track the rate of infection for their surgery patients. The surgeons tested patients before surgery and then again two weeks afterward if they developed any symptoms. Patients who tested positive beforehand had to postpone their procedures, but of the patients who were free of the virus, the study found the risk of developing COVID after plastic surgery to be less than 1 percent—while the overall rate of positive COVID cases in the county varied between 4 and 10 percent during that time.

“We conducted this during the time that cases and infection rates were rising,” explains Beverly Hills, CA plastic surgeon John Diaz, MD, one of the authors of the study. “Despite that, there were only a total of less than 1 percent, about 0.13 percent of patients, who tested positive for COVID in those two weeks after. None of those patients experienced complications or hospitalizations. So, the takeaway is elective plastic surgery poses, very, very minimal, if any, risk to patients.”

“Los Angeles was a hotspot at the time,” adds Santa Monica, CA plastic surgeon and co-author Steven Teitelbaum, MD. “Coincidentally, there was a huge surge of cases during the time of the study. So, knowing the outcome, it’s really remarkable, even during a very concerning period.”

“Los Angeles is very diverse socioeconomically and includes all demographics and ethnicities,” says study co-author La Jolla, CA plastic surgeon Robert Singer, MD. “So, it’s not just a homogeneous population that we surveyed. There have been some studies that looked at elective procedures since COVID, but this one was the first that really looked at just plastic surgical procedures.”

Safety Standards
We can look to the Los Angeles study as a model to decipher what this means for the rest of the country and the doctors say The Aesthetic Society conducted a similar survey nationwide of 18,000 surgeons. The results of that unpublished survey also found the risk to be just as low. Both point to the overall safety of aesthetic treatments, which Dr. Teitelbaum says is a reflection of high standards surgeons have been trained to uphold.

“There were only seven cases of people who got COVID within two weeks afterwards and they were all minor cases,” he adds. “It really shouldn’t be a surprise, right? Who do you think invented gloves, masks and gowns? We’ve spent our whole careers learning how to use them. Sometimes people will say aesthetic surgeries are nonessential, like it’s no different than an eyebrow wax or your hair colorist, but the difference is that we’re the experts in infection control. The whole concept of infection control came out of surgical infection control in the 19th century. So, for over 140 years, surgeons are the ones who have advanced this whole thing.”

Proceed with Caution
While the findings confirm the safety of undergoing cosmetic procedures while we continue to quell the COVID outbreak, Dr. Teitelbaum says it’s not a time to fall back on compliance: “I want people to understand that yes, it’s safe to have surgery but you still have to be careful. It’s not about letting your guard down. That same diligence we showed in April, May, June and July, we need to continue that.”

“What’s interesting about all of this is that when you have surgery, you’re getting tested beforehand, so you know must quarantine if you’re positive,” he adds. “If you have a procedure and you’re recovering at home, you’re essentially social distancing.”

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