Healthcare workers caring for patients with confirmed or suspected coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) face an increased risk for exposure to the virus. They can minimize the risk by following infection control and prevention recommendations. But what happens, when despite their best efforts they become exposed to a patient with confirmed or suspected Covid-19? Or, even worse, they become infected with the virus?
If a healthcare worker experiences an unprotected exposure to a patient with confirmed or suspected Covid-19, advise them to contact their supervisor or occupational health services immediately. In consultation with public health authorities, your facility should use CDC guidance and clinical judgment to assess the healthcare worker’s exposure risk, and then gauge work restrictions on that risk. (CDC, 2020a).
The CDC uses three categories to describe Covid-19 exposure risk:
When a healthcare worker experiences medium- or high-risk exposure, state or local public health authorities assume responsibility for actively monitoring the healthcare worker for fever or respiratory symptoms. The CDC recommends that these authorities communicate with the exposed individual at least daily to monitor for symptoms.
It’s recommended that you exclude a healthcare worker with medium- or high-risk exposure from work for 14 days after the last exposure (CDC, 2020a). However, if staffing issues exist after options to improve staffing have been exhausted, your facility can permit an asymptomatic healthcare worker who has been exposed to work, after consultation with occupational health services (CDC, 2020a).
If a healthcare worker develops symptoms of Covid-19 (fever, cough, difficulty breathing), advise them to stay home from work. Tell them to report their illness to the facility’s occupational health services.
Make sure that your sick time policies support public health guidelines and that your employees are familiar with these policies (CDC, 2020b).
Your healthcare facility can use one of two strategies to determine when a healthcare worker may return to work after Covid-19.
When returning to work, have the healthcare worker adhere to the following practices:
If extenuating circumstances occur, and authorities determine that these recommended strategies can’t be followed because of staffing shortages, a healthcare worker may be evaluated for an earlier return to work. If a healthcare worker returns to work earlier than recommended, encourage the healthcare worker to follow the return to work strategies described above (CDC, 2020c).
Since information surrounding the Covid-19 virus continues to evolve, keep informed by checking the CDC’s Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19) webpage.
Lippincott Solutions note: for the latest coverage on Covid-19 by the Lippincott Nursing team, please visit nursingcenter.com/coronavirus.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). “Interim U.S. Guidance for Risk Assessment and Public Health Management of Healthcare Personnel with Potential Exposure in a Healthcare Setting to Patients with Coronavirus Disease (Covid-19).”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). “Steps Healthcare Facilities Can Take Now to Prepare for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19).”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). “Criteria for Return to Work for Healthcare Personnel with Confirmed or Suspected Covid-19 (Interim Guidance).”
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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.