COVID-19 has arrived in Minnesota. The infection prevention and control (IPC) team and the Children’s Minnesota COVID-19 task force have been working since December to prepare our hospitals and clinics for this, including creating triage and testing guidelines, developing lab testing instructions, defining procedures for admitting a suspect case, describing proper personal protective equipment, reviewing internal policies, and more.
While there is a significant amount of work complete and more underway, as a health care professional, you may be wondering what you can do now to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed guidance to help in the risk assessment and management of people with potential exposures to COVID-19. Patsy Stinchfield, PNP, senior director of infection prevention and control, has also shared her tips for keeping yourself, your family and your patients and families safe.
1. Wash your hands.
“Hand hygiene is the number one thing staff should be doing now, and all the time, to prevent the spread of infection,” said Patsy. “Washing with soap and water and scrubbing your hands and wrists vigorously for 20 seconds is the best way to make sure they are free of germs and debris. If hand washing isn’t practical for some reason, alcohol hand gels with at least 60 percent alcohol are also appropriate for hand hygiene.”
2. Know what to do for suspect cases.
Because COVID-19 can present similar to a cold or influenza, it’s important to know what symptoms to look for.
“Someone with COVID-19 may have fever, cough, shortness of breath or chest pain,” said Patsy. “If the child has traveled to a known area with laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 within 14 days and has respiratory symptoms, or if they have been exposed to someone else with a confirmed case of COVID-19, they should be given a mask and immediately isolated in an airborne isolation infectious (AII) room. The next step is to call infection prevention and control at 952-260-9021 for guidance on testing, isolation and communicating with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).”
3. Wear the proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
“Currently, the CDC recommends standard precautions, contact precautions, airborne precautions and eye protection when caring for a person under investigation or caring for patients with confirmed COVID-19,” said Patsy. “While it’s possible PPE recommendations could change as we learn more about the disease, take the time now to practice how to properly don, use and doff PPE to keep yourself safe.”
It’s not necessary for well individuals to wear a mask to try to prevent COVID-19, said Patsy. “A typical surgical mask is designed to keep germs in; it would be ineffective at keeping COVID-19 gems out. Wash your hands, avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose, and follow the recommended PPE guidelines to keep yourself safe.”
Due to high demand for supplies and limited availability, Patsy also recommends being conservative with PPE. As we continue to take stock of supplies and monitor availability, we strongly encourage staff to only use N95 masks where they are necessary for patient care, such as for children with TB or measles.
4. Take care of yourself.
The same preventive actions we take every day to avoid the cold and flu are also effective at protecting you from COVID-19, such as hand hygiene, avoiding touching your eyes or nose, and covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue.
“We owe it to ourselves, our colleagues, patients and families to avoid spreading germs at work. Stay home if you are sick, and encourage others who are sick to stay home as well,” said Patsy. “If you are feeling sick, call your primary care provider to discuss your symptoms and next steps.”
5. Create a plan for your family.
Think ahead about what you will do if you or a family member becomes ill, or if school or daycare is closed. Stock up on non-perishable food items, medications, cleaning supplies, tissues, anti-inflammatories, pet food, etc. in case you are too ill to leave home.
“Talk to grandparents, children and extended family about what you will do if someone gets sick,” said Patsy. “Teach your family the same great prevention skills you use at work, such as washing your hands thoroughly, covering your cough/sneeze and avoiding touching your face.”
In addition, Patsy recommends carefully evaluating non-essential personal and business travel. “With COVID-19 in more than 80 countries and 13 states, people should think very carefully about the need to travel. The CDC has an excellent tool for evaluating what areas of the world are under alert: www.CDC.gov/travel/notices. It’s possible that travel could increase your risk of exposure, and we certainly want all of our employees to be safe and healthy.”
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