COVID-19 Coronavirus Is in the United States. Is Your Medical Office Ready?

washing hands coronavirus

Confirmed cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus strain are spreading worldwide, and people are anxious about the prospect of a pandemic. The World Health Organization updated its threat assessment to the highest level: “very high.” The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported the first case of possible “community transmission” in the US, and all medical facilities need to prepare for an influx of patients who are infected – or worry that they are.

Local medical offices will be on the front lines since many people will visit their primary care physician or urgent care clinic when they experience symptoms. Proper training and preparation will help your staff stay safe and provide quality patient care.

Train Staff on Safety and Patient Identification

In China, over 1,700 healthcare workers have been infected while treating coronavirus patients. Much of that was due to initial confusion about the virus. It presented with cold and flu-like symptoms during cold and flu season. People didn’t immediately realize that they were dealing with a new coronavirus strain. Now that the epidemic has been well-documented, healthcare workers can be better prepared.

Even so, a February survey of 150 doctors found that only 9% were confident that they could identify a patient infected with COVID-19. Just 25% felt prepared to treat a COVID-19 coronavirus patient. All staff, even those who don’t work within a clinic capacity, should be educated and trained on how to recognize and triage patients presenting with the symptoms of COVID-19. Update your patient intake procedures to include questions about travel history and possible contact with infected persons.

The CDC published guidelines for healthcare workers caring for patients with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19:

  • Assess and triage these patients with acute respiratory symptoms and risk factors for COVID-19 to minimize chances of exposure, including placing a facemask on the patient and isolating them in an Airborne Infection Isolation Room (AIIR), if available.
  • Use Standard PrecautionsContact Precautions, Airborne Precautions and eye protection when caring for both confirmed or possible COVID-19 cases.
  • Perform hand hygiene with alcohol-based hand rub before and after all patient contact, contact with potentially infectious material, and before putting on and removing PPE, including gloves. Use soap and water if hands are visibly soiled.
  • Practice how to properly don, use, and doff PPE in a manner to prevent self-contamination.
  • Perform aerosol-generating procedures, including collection of diagnostic respiratory specimens, in an AIIR, while following appropriate IPC (Infection Prevention and Control) practices, including use of appropriate PPE.

Pay particular attention to safe removal of PPE. A study published by Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, reported that that improper removal of gloves and other PPE may contaminate healthcare workers. It noted, “39 percent of workers made errors in removing personal protective equipment (PPE), including gowns and gloves, increasing the incidence of contamination.

Sharps Safety and Regulated Medical Waste Handling

Primary care practices are already extremely busy during cold and flu season, but it’s important to take time to prepare for a possible influx of COVID-19 patients. Your staff may need additional training (or refresher training) on safety protocols, including those governing sharps safety, PPE, and regulated medical waste disposal.

The CDC has authorized many state public health testing labs to begin testing for the COVID-19 virus. Clinical staff and couriers should understand how to safely collect specimens and transfer them to labs for testing.

Review our “What’s Going Into That Red Bag?” series of articles for more information about safe handling and disposal of regulated medical waste including blood and other potentially infectious materials.

ComplianceTrac is Sharps Compliance’s online training and compliance tool that includes numerous training modules carefully designed to meet the most common OSHA requirements for safety training in the healthcare industry. As an online interface, it allows for the customized delivery of content so staff members can train either individually or in groups, all according to their schedules or the clinic’s workflow needs.  Current employees can also access modules to refresh their knowledge in critical areas during this viral outbreak. Training modules include, but are not limited to:

  • Bloodborne Pathogens
  • Sharps Safety
  • Hand Hygiene
  • Personal Protective Equipment

ComplianceTrac has a new “Infectious Diseases” section, which includes posters, facility checklists, and CDC and OSHA guidance regarding COVID-19.

Check out our professional tips on dealing with medical waste from COVID-19 Coronavirus cases.

Contact us to learn more about our medical waste disposal services, sharps collection options, staff training solutions, and more.

Kathryn Kane-Neilson
Latest posts by Kathryn Kane-Neilson (see all)

Author: Kathryn Kane-Neilson

Kathryn earned her Bachelor of Science with a concentration in cellular pathology from the University of Texas and high-complexity testing certification by the ASCP. Kathryn has been published in the journal Cancer Cytopathology and has seven years’ experience in clinical laboratory as well as experience developing comprehensive training on biohazardous waste management in clinical and research settings.