While many people are transitioning to working from home during the COVID-19 outbreak, healthcare workers and other employees in essential industries don’t have this option. Healthcare workers are required to work tirelessly on the front lines against this disease, putting themselves at risk.
Unfortunately, the recent outbreak has seen a massive surge in purchases of protective medical equipment such as face masks and gloves by the public leaving healthcare workers at risk of exposure due to a lack of supplies. While manufacturers and government organizations are working to address the situation, there are a few steps you can take to protect yourself from COVID-19 at work.
COVID-19 is transmitted via hand-to-hand contact and contaminated surfaces, then touching your face. Although you may be unable to avoid coming into contact with contaminated items, you can reduce the risk of transmission by correctly and frequently washing your hands with water and antiseptic soap.
Ensure that you lather and rinse for at least 20 seconds focusing on nails and between fingers where the virus is most likely to hide.
Practice correct hand hygiene before and after any patient interaction or contact with infectious material, as well as before and after putting on and taking off personal protective equipment.
Healthcare facilities have a responsibility to provide adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) to all healthcare workers at risk of coming into contact with COVID-19. However, as healthcare workers, you need to be able to don, use, and doff the equipment correctly to prevent cross-contamination.
PPE consists of barrier protection in the form of gowns, gloves, goggles, shoe covers, and masks. Gowns should cover the torso from neck to knees and wrap around to fasten at the neck and waist in the back.
Ideally, respirator masks should be used; however, if limited supplies are available, standard surgical masks should fit snuggly over the bridge of the nose and securely under the chin.
Apply goggles or a face shield to protect eyes, and gloves should extend up the wrists to cover the sleeves of the gown.
Removing your PPE is just as important as putting it on as you risk cross-contaminating your skin and clothes. Use the doffing procedure recommended by the CDC or the standard process used by your healthcare facility.
Unless necessary, avoid coming into direct contact with sick patients and coworkers. Follow CDC and WHO guidelines regarding physical distancing and maintain at least six feet between yourself and another person.
Medical assistants can set up perimeters around administration desks and ask patients to retrieve admission documents from an intermediary location.
Encourage virtual visits for non-emergency care. Video conferencing and phone calls allow you to make limited diagnostic assessments and treatment plans. Inform patients that they can fill their prescriptions directly through the pharmacy for most medications rather than visiting the doctor’s office.
Hospitals and treatment facilities should have negative pressure isolation rooms set up for patients and staff to prevent the spread of the infection outside of designated treatment areas. Talk to your employers about setting up temporary isolation rooms in triage and examination areas if the facility has not already done so.
All healthcare facilities should have a cleaning and disinfecting procedure in place as part of their standard hygiene protocols. Strict adherence to these procedures and implementing more rigorous sterilization can help decrease your risk of exposure to the virus.
Use EPA-certified hospital-grade cleaners to sterilize frequently touched surfaces and objects. All non-disposable items and equipment should be sterilized according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Visual alerts posted at strategic places around your healthcare facility can help to gently remind workers about how to protect themselves and others from transmitting COVID-19. Posters with clear instructions and illustrations for hand washing and required PPE should be placed around doorways, break areas, treatment and examination rooms, and handwashing stations.
Visual cues can also be helpful for patients to help limit your exposure to the virus. Visual alerts posted at the entrance to your facility can help you to passively screen patients for COVID-19 without coming into direct contact. This will allow for more efficient triage and patient management. Provide face masks and hand sanitizer, as well as instructional posters around waiting rooms, elevators, and cafeterias.
As of March 23, 2020, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) has released a certified worker training program to help healthcare workers protect themselves from exposure to and transmission of COVID-19. The courses are delivered via a virtual education platform and are geared towards workers in high-risk sectors of the healthcare industry.
Encourage employers and colleagues to take advantage of the government-funded program for better safety education during this challenging time.
Based on the current COVID-19 situation and availability of personal protective equipment (PPE), CDC has specific recommendations, please review their webpage for more information. As they learn more about COVID-19 and as the needs of the response or availability of PPE within U.S. healthcare facilities changes, they will update their information.
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