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5 ways nurses can stay safe during COVID-19

Nurses are on the front lines of healthcare, battling the surge of COVID-19 cases that are causing fear and panic across the globe. As usual, nurses are rising to the challenge of caring for affected patients and saving lives. So, what can nurses do to stay safe during this pandemic? While there isn’t currently a vaccine or cure for the coronavirus, there are several ways nurses can protect themselves in these uncertain times.

1. Educate Yourself and be Prepared

During these ever-changing times, it is crucial to stay up to date on all developments of COVID-19. It’s particularly important for nurses to educate themselves on the latest symptoms, diagnostic tests, and the hospital’s infection prevention and control policies.

Whenever a question regarding the coronavirus arises, make sure to follow the recommendations of credible experts like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Their websites are updated daily with the newest information on COVID-19. Additionally, it’s helpful to create an emergency contact list of your state and local health departments and keep this in an easily accessible location in your department.

Nurse managers should provide education and refresher training to their staff on the appropriate use of all medical equipment and tests and the facility’s preparedness plans. It’s also beneficial to have alternate staffing plans in place to maintain as many available nurses as possible. 

Finally, learn about your hospital’s plans to manage patients, accept patient transfers, and share supplies. It’s important to stay informed on how to provide support and assistance to other departments during emergencies.


2. Minimize Your Chance for Disease Exposures

The best way to prevent coronavirus is to avoid exposure to the virus. Unfortunately, as we know, nurses are frequently exposed to hazards every day that put their health at risk.

Nurses can minimize their chance of virus exposure by ensuring that hospital policies and practices are in place and followed. Protecting the hospital’s workforce includes screening patients, using personal protective equipment (PPE) appropriately, maintaining adequate medical supplies, and encouraging sick employees to stay at home. 

The screening process for COVID-19 symptoms should take place before patients enter your medical facility. One way to implement this screening process is through telemedicine technologies, telephone triage, and self-assessment tools. 

Additionally, there should be locations within your hospital where patients with a fever or respiratory symptoms can be separated and evaluated.


3. Apply Standard and Transmission-based Precautions

When caring for patients, the CDC recommends that nurses and other healthcare personnel (HCP) should assume that every person is infected with a pathogen and use the following standard precautions:

  • Hand hygiene
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Respirator (if available) or face mask
  • Eye protection (goggles or face shields)
  • Gloves
  • Gowns 

You may also want to consider conducting frequent inventory checks of available PPE and use strategies to optimize supplies. Some additional ways hospitals are preserving supplies is by delaying elective procedures and rescheduling non-urgent admissions to a later date.


4. Protect Healthcare Workers from Illness

Nurses are a precious resource, and we want them to feel safe when they care for patients and save lives.

The World Health Organization (WHO) expects managers of healthcare facilities to take responsibility for their workers’ health and protect them from harm. 

Below are a few of these rights: 

  • Provide adequate medical supplies in sufficient quantities.
  • Allow health workers to do self-assessments and stay home when sick.
  • Provide an environment conducive to reporting incidents and exposures.
  • Allow compensation and rehabilitation for workers infected with COVID-19 following exposure at work.
  • Provide access to counseling services.


5. Take Care of Yourself

Dealing with the stress of a pandemic can be overwhelming. Many nurses must quarantine themselves after their shifts to protect their family and friends. This isolation can make frontline workers especially prone to anxiety, which takes a toll on their overall wellbeing. However, helping others in stressful times can make you and your community stronger.

Here are some ways that nurses can cope with stress:

  • Connect with others via video chat.
  • Get outside and take a walk.
  • Eat healthy, immune-boosting foods.
  • Perform meditation techniques.
  • Get enough restful sleep.
  • Take a break from news coverage.
  • Talk with a friend or get professional help.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has also created the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which offers a website and 24/7 helpline dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling related to any natural or human-caused disaster.

The health and safety of our nurses during the COVID-19 crisis should remain a top priority. Educating yourself and taking the necessary precautions is your best defense against exposure to the coronavirus.

How is your healthcare facility keeping its staff safe?

5 ways nurses can stay safe during COVID-19
Janine Kelbach

Janine Kelbach, RNC-OB is a freelance writer and owner of WriteRN.net.