Your healthcare team stands on the front line when caring for patients who might be infected with novel coronavirus 2019, commonly referred to as COVID-19. With all of the media hype surrounding the virus, caring for patients infected with COVID-19 may be anxiety-producing for staff. You can help combat the hype and reduce their anxiety by providing these 5 facts about COVID-19.
When compared to seasonal influenza, there aren’t many cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., so the risk of contracting COVID-19 remains low. In fact, on March 3,, 2020 the CDC reported 60 cases of COVID-19 from 12 states, with 6 deaths attributed to the virus (CDC, 2020a). Most cases so far have been mild. The elderly and those with such underlying health conditions as diabetes, heart disease and pulmonary conditions seem to be at greatest risk of serious illness.
In comparison, the CDC estimates that from October 1, 2019 through February 22, 2020 there have been 32,000,000 to 45,000,000 influenza illnesses, resulting in 310,000 to 560,000 hospitalizations and 18,000 to 46, 000 deaths (CDC, 2020b). Influenza hospital rates have been highest among children and young adults (CDC, 2020c).
COVID-19 seems similar to other coronaviruses, including those that cause the common cold. It appears to spread from prolonged close contact (within 6 feet) with droplets when an infected patient coughs or sneezes, or from direct contact with secretions such as sputum, serum, blood or respiratory droplets of an infected person (CDC, 2020d). To protect against person-to-person spread, post signage (in appropriate languages) at entrances encouraging patients and visitors to inform staff about respiratory infection symptoms and to practice respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette.
When a patient presents with fever, cough, and shortness of breath and risk factors (recent travel to a place where a recent outbreak has occurred or known exposure to an infected person), instruct staff to place a mask on the patient and isolate them in an Airborne Infection Isolation Room (AIIR), if available. Have them institute Standard Precautions, Contact Precautions, and Airborne Precautions, and wear eye protection when caring for patients with suspected or confirmed infection. Instruct staff to perform all aerosol-generating procedures, including those used to collect respiratory specimens, in an AIIR, and make sure staff wear appropriate personal protective equipment.
Encourage patients, staff, and visitors to perform hand hygiene often. Instruct staff to perform hand hygiene with an alcohol-based hand rub before and after all patient contact, after contact with potentially infectious material, and before putting on and removing personal protective equipment, including gloves. Remind staff to wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds when visibly soiled.
Inform staff that the CDC recommends routine cleaning and disinfection procedures in healthcare settings, including those areas used to perform aerosol-generating procedures, with environmental Protection Agency-approved products that have emerging viral pathogen claims. Medical waste, eating utensils, and laundry also require routine handling.
So despite the hype, preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus infection remains much the same as other respiratory infections. Those same basic infection control practices (standard and transmission-based precautions, respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette, hand hygiene, and routine cleaning and disinfection) that protect staff against other infections can help guard your staff from exposure to the COVID-19 virus.
Since information surrounding the COVID-19 virus continues to evolve, keep informed by checking the CDC’s Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) webpage.
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About the Author
Collette Bishop Hendler, RN, MS, MA, CIC, Editor-in-Chief, Lippincott Solutions, Point-of-Care, is certified by the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology, Inc. as an Infection Preventionist.