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8 Practices Every Health Professional Should Follow as COVID-19 Spreads in the US

Originally published 4/3/2020

Globally, there are more than one million cases of novel coronavirus and almost 110,000 deaths — and both these numbers are on the rise.

With the latest data showing more than 500,000 U.S. cases in all 50 states, COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, is spreading exponentially. At the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s last count, 18,559 people have died from the virus.

As the outbreak grows within our borders, healthcare providers should be focused on protecting their patients — and themselves. “Their risk is highest for infection,” Eric Cioe-Pena, MD, director of global health at Northwell Health in New York, tells Florence Health.

These are the most important actions for HCPs to combat coronavirus.

Ask patients about their exposure to COVID-19 before testing.

The CDC recommends that clinicians immediately implement recommended infection prevention and control practices if a patient is suspected of having COVID-19.

According to William Schaffner, MD, professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University, clinicians should ask patients if they’ve recently traveled internationally and whether they’ve had direct contact with someone who has coronavirus. If they have symptoms, they should first be tested for influenza, Dr. Schaffner says.

“Resources are limited at the moment, and attention is focused on cases that are likely to be positive,” he explains. “It would be wasteful to test everyone with a cough for coronavirus.”

Test patients who meet the clinical guidelines.

Health professionals who have a patient with apparent symptoms of COVID-19 should follow the CDC guidelines, Dr. Cioe-Pena says. The guidelines highlight three priority levels for testing:

  • Priority One: Hospitalized patients and healthcare workers with symptoms.
  • Priority Two: Patients experiencing symptoms who are in long-term care facilities, are over the age of 65, have underlying conditions or are first responders.
  • Priority Three: Critical infrastructure workers with symptoms, individuals with symptoms who do not fall into any of the other categories, healthcare workers, first responders and individuals with mild symptoms in disproportionately-affected communities.

Wear personal protective equipment.

“Healthcare workers should make sure to wear adequate personal protective equipment like gowns, masks and gloves, and to be careful in how they put on and take off this equipment so they don’t contaminate themselves while removing the equipment,” says Dr. Cioe-Pena.

The CDC has in-depth guidelines for gloves, gowns, respiratory and eye protection and how to don and doff each garment. Any reusable PPE must be properly cleaned, decontaminated and maintained after and between uses.

Wash your hands — and tell patients to do the same.

The best protection against coronavirus, for anyone, is hand-washing. “Good and frequent hand hygiene is important,” Dr. Schaffner says. This means washing your hands with hand sanitizer that’s 60-to-95-percent alcohol or using soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If your hands are visibly soiled, start with soap and then go to sanitizer.

In general, you should clean your hands before and after all patient contact, contact with potentially infectious material, and before putting on and after removing PPE, including gloves. This is especially important when treating COVID-19 patients.

Give masks to possible COVID-19 patients, and wear one yourself.

Give simple, surgical masks to coughing and sneezing patients, but also know these do not always stop coronavirus from spreading, Dr. Schaffner says.

If used correctly, N95 masks are extremely effective. Make sure there’s a strong seal around the nose, cheeks and chin. “You can continue to use the same one unless it becomes visually soiled or in some way damaged,” Dr. Schaffner adds. After you use it, hang it on a hook or put it into another safe place, and then wash your hands.

Masks should be reserved for patients who test positive for COVID-19 and for the providers taking care of them, says Rodney Rohde, PhD, chair and professor of the Clinical Laboratory Science (CLS) Program and associate dean of research at the College of Health Professions at Texas State University.

Learn more about reusing N95 masks from the CDC.

Be aware of high-touch surfaces.

Research shows the virus can survive on surfaces for as long as nine days under ideal conditions. Therefore, HCPs should practice hand hygiene before and after coming in contact with surfaces where the virus may live, and try to reduce the amount you touch your eyes and mouth.

Use critical drugs carefully, in case of a shortage.

Make sure they’re not just “being handed out,” Dr. Rohde says, and ask your employer if there’s a plan in place should a drug shortage happen. If it does, “look at other sources for the drugs or whether there are other drugs that could work in a certain situation until the drug in short supply is available again,” he adds.

Share accurate information with patients.

The CDC, World Health Organization, the American Society for Microbiology and Elsevier are good sources of information.

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