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Doctors, nurses, and health care providers are on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, providing care and saving lives. Given how little is known about the virus, and how contagious it appears to be, many health care workers are understandably nervous about contracting the disease or bringing it home to their loved ones. Whether you’re a nurse in the ICU or a home health care worker in a senior facility, here are seven precautions you can take to combat COVID-19 and protect yourself, your family, and your friends.
1. Make sure your facility is following CDC guidelines.
At this point in the coronavirus epidemic, your facility should already be following the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). This includes measures such as identifying airborne infection isolation rooms (AIIR) or negative pressure rooms for quarantine and screening. Another important measure is outlining staffing protocols to facilitate the care of patients with COVID-19. Since developments are changing so rapidly and new research is proceeding apace, you should double-check that your facility is staying up to date with the most current findings. You can find more guidance from the CDC’s centralized portal.
2. Observe proper PPE protocols.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages are a sad reality in some areas, even as companies and individuals race to make more masks, face shields, gowns, and gloves. As much as possible, you should wear PPE and follow safety protocols, including proper hand sanitation. Sanitize your hands, step into your isolation gown, put on your N95 respirator, add your goggles or face shield, wash or sanitize your hands again and put on your gloves. Then, you may finally enter the patient room. Before exiting the room, remove the gloves and gown and dispose of them. After exiting the room, perform hand hygiene before and after removing the face shield and mask.
3. Watch yourself for symptoms.
Health care workers are unfortunately at a greater risk of catching coronavirus, especially if they are working directly with patients who are ill with COVID-19. Watch yourself carefully for symptoms such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath within 2-14 days of exposure. Symptoms present very differently from individual to individual, and you can also be asymptomatic while carrying the virus without knowing it. You can measure your temperature to make sure that you’re not sick if you think you might have been exposed. If you start exhibiting symptoms, it’s imperative to get tested immediately. You don’t want to infect otherwise healthy patients, so the safest action you can take is to self-isolate and wait for your test results.
4. Educate your patients.
Yes, health care providers can spread the coronavirus — and so can your patients. In fact, the vast majority of people have picked up the virus from other civilians in perfectly ordinary situations, like going to the grocery store. Talk to patients about the importance of self-isolation and following CDC guidelines, such as not touching their faces, washing their hands properly for at least 20 seconds, and limiting trips outside the house. Make sure that your patients are only coming in for an appointment if absolutely necessary. If there’s any chance they have coronavirus, even if their symptoms are mild, it could be best for them to ride it out at home rather than to come in and potentially infect other people. As always, make sure all patients consult with their health care providers about any such decisions.
5. Leave the germs at work.
Bring a set of clean clothes and shoes with you to work in a sealed plastic bag. At the end of your shift, perform hand hygiene and change into the new clothes and shoes. Place your scrubs in another sealed bag to bring home with you and don’t put the dirty clothes in the same bag as the clean clothes if you plan to reuse them. If you can, leave your slip-resistant shoes in your locker so you don’t have to take them home with you. Once you leave the hospital, wipe down your cell phone, pager, and other personal devices with disinfectant. You might also want to disinfectant the door handles, steering wheel, and other high touch areas in your car.
6. Clean your scrubs and shoes.
At home, leave your shoes outside the door. Take off your clothes and put them in the washer immediately alongside your nursing scrubs. Wash the clothes on the hottest setting possible with plenty of detergent. If you want, you can also add bleach to the wash cycle. Dry the clothes for at least 30 minutes on the hottest setting available. If your shoes are made of a hard material, wipe them down with disinfectant after each shift. If they’re not, wash them periodically in a separate load.
7. Protect your family.
Even if you’re not currently exhibiting symptoms, if you work in a role that exposes you to patients that likely have coronavirus, you might want to self-isolate from your family. You can isolate yourself in your own living space, but you’ll need to sleep in a different bedroom, use a different bathroom, and eat your meals separately from the rest of your family. If your current living arrangement doesn’t allow you to do that, some hotels and short-term rentals are offering accommodations to health care workers for drastically reduced rates so they can keep their families safe.
Following these guidelines and erring on the side of caution will cut down on your odds of spreading COVID-19 or catching it yourself. Stay abreast of the latest guidelines and do everything you can to leave the germs at the hospital.
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