People around the world understand that the coronavirus (2019-nCoV or COVID-19) is spreading at alarming rates. No one knows for sure how it started, but it first emerged in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, but cases have been reported globally—including in the United States. Anyone can be exposed, but nurses need to be particularly careful, as they may be treating infected patients.
Just what is the virus and how can nurses protect themselves from exposure?
Not a new virus
The family of corona viruses is not new, although COVID-19 is a new strain. Named for crown-like (“corona”) spikes along their surfaces, seven types of corona viruses can affect humans, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports. The new version spreads from person to person through droplets (coughs and sneezes) and by touching infected surfaces and then touching your face, mouth or eyes. An infected person can spread the virus, even if he or she experiences no symptoms.
The most common symptoms
Symptoms range from mild to severe and can develop within two to 14 days after exposure. Someone with the virus usually experiences:
- Shortness of breath
Infants, children the elderly and anyone with compromised immune systems or underlying illnesses are most vulnerable to the virus.
Why nurses are vulnerable
Both the International Council of Nurses (ICN) and World Health Organization (WHO) say the virus can take a toll on nurses. They often work long hours and extra shifts, and they are exposed to patients suffering from a multitude of illnesses, including COVID-19. This can affect their mental wellbeing and how they care for their patients. Additionally, they must deal with patients who worry about getting the virus, even when they have not been diagnosed.
A lack of supplies and PPE
One of the greatest threats in the United States that affects nurses and healthcare workers in particular is the lack of PPE (personal protective equipment). National Nurses United has been conducting an ongoing survey, and of the 5,000 nurses they questioned, only 31 percent think they have sufficient PPE to handle the onslaught of coronavirus cases. Moreover, they say only 9 percent of hospitals have a plan in place to isolate infected patients. Masks, gowns, eyewear, gloves and face shields are in demand right now to protect those who regularly treat infected patients. Even better than regular surgical masks, N95 respirator masks conform to the face and effectively block at least 95 percent of small airborne particles.
How medical facilities can protect nurses, patients and staff
Early detection of infected and exposed patients is an important first step. The CDC recommends having designated airborne infection isolation rooms (AIIR) available for quarantine and screening to reduce threats of exposure. If AIIR rooms are not available, they can choose rooms that have air that isn’t recirculated without HEPA filtration. Masks should also be available for patients under investigation for the virus. It is also helpful for facilities to have infection control personnel available who can train nurses and staff on the proper use of PPE. Another important consideration is amending sick leave policies for nurses and other staff so they can stay home if they’re sick and not suffer any punitive damage.
Prepare and educate
So much is still unknown about COVID-19, but educating nurses, staff and patients about what is known may help control the outbreak. For nurses and healthcare workers, log the names of anyone who enters the room of an infected patient so that those people can be monitored. These are some of the guidelines the CDC has put forth:
- When patients make appointments, tell them to call ahead or inform staff if they have any respiratory issues and to wear a mask.
- Post signs throughout the facility that tell how to use PPE and properly wash hands, and also list COVID-19 symptoms.
- Create a separate, well-ventilated waiting area for patients with coronavirus or other respiratory symptoms.
- Have infection prevention supplies—masks, hand sanitizer, tissues, no-touch waste disposal receptacles—available at facility entrances, waiting areas, check-in areas, etc.
- Tell visitors to limit their movement in the facilities.
- Screen all visitors for symptoms before they enter the facility.
Until we know more about this highly contagious virus that has the world on edge, nurses—and all of us—can follow these guidelines. One simple protective measure, and perhaps the most important, is to wash your hands frequently and for at least 20 seconds each time. Use soap and hot water, getting in between your fingers and up your forearms if possible.
Qualifications to become a nurse
Nursing is a challenging but rewarding profession. Brookline College offers Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degree in Nursing at campuses in Phoenix, Albuquerque and online. In addition to traditional classroom instruction, you’ll have hands-on learning opportunities in Brookline’s simulated lab. Experienced instructors help you learn from your mistakes and give you the confidence you need to apply your training in the real world.
Contact Brookline College to take the first step toward a career in nursing.
New coronavirus cases are appearing every day, and it’s scary. Nurses are at particular risk for exposure because they’re in contact with sick people daily. Here’s what you need to know about the virus.