As a nurse, you might be experiencing added stress when treating patients with COVID-19 and maybe you’re wondering what extra precautions you can take to protect yourself on the job. To help ease your mind, we’ve collected information and tips on preventative things you can do before, during, and after work to help keep yourself, your loved ones, and your patients as safe as possible.
Why are 10% of COVID-19 (coronavirus) cases health care workers? Are we not protecting ourselves well enough? Dr. Siobhan from Toronto answers these tough questions:
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The life span of a coronavirus varies, depending on the surface it’s sitting on or how long its droplets have been in the air. To keep yourself safe, it’s important to know the lifespan of COVID-19 so you can protect yourself during and after work.
The virus can live anywhere from a few minutes to 7 days depending on how far it travels and on the material on which it sits.
Check out the diagram below for more information:
Source: New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet Microbe,
Make sure you are always protect yourself when you’re around or treating patients with COVID-19. The Canadian Nurses Association provides the following guidelines:
“Before you provide care, review your provincial/territorial and organizational policies on infection prevention control practices for COVID-19. National guidelines state:
For care of suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19, droplet/contact precautions are required; these precautions include facial protection (with surgical or procedure mask and eye protection — goggles, safety glasses, visor, or face shield), gown and gloves. For aerosol-generating medical procedures (AGMPs), N95 respirators are required.”
Always put on your PPE in this order:
Besides making sure you have PPE, Nursing Times stresses the importance of knowing how to choose the right PPE and how to wear and remove it safely. For example, while PPE protects you on the job, self-contamination typically happens when it’s being removed and gets under your skin or on your clothes.
PPE needs to be removed in the following sequence to minimise the risk of cross/self-contamination:
If you’re working in conditions where you’re not given proper/safe PPE we recommend contacting your union, for example Occupational health and safety (OH&S) legislation. You should also bring it up to your manager or connect with other coworkers who will speak out with you.
Don’t be afraid to speak out and demand proper protection. If you need to file an incident report, file one. You cannot help protect your patients if you are not properly protecting yourself first.
When working with patients suffering from COVID-19, there are many things before, during, and after work that you can do to protect yourself as a frontline worker. Examples include:
We all recognize scrubs as a uniform and symbol of the nursing profession. But did you know they are also meant to ensure both your safety and that of your patients through proper hygiene?
Keeping your scrubs clean and free of bacteria is extremely important, as they can harbor pathogens that can compromise safety. Nurse Buff suggests avoiding this is by washing and disinfecting them after each shift. Here are the steps to follow:
Despite the importance of protecting yourself with a face mask, you may still cringe every time you put it on - after all, they aren’t known for comfort! Cnet provides some great tips to maximize your comfort when you use basic masks.
Keep in mind the position statement of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions. It advises that things are changing daily and so it’s best to use your judgement and keep the principle of hierarchy in mind:
"New evidence and information on COVID-19 is emerging daily, and CFNU’s recommendations remain based on emerging science and Occupational Health and Safety principles, including the precautionary principle; in particular, as it applies to nurses using their professional clinical judgment when performing a point-of-care risk assessment.
As well, the occupational health and safety principle of the hierarchy of controls applies. It starts with eliminating the hazard when possible. When that cannot be accomplished, a combination of engineering and administrative controls, combined with personal protective equipment, must be applied.
The system is called a hierarchy because you must apply each level in the order that they fall in the list; a systematic comprehensive approach must be taken to reducing hazards; a hierarchy of controls cannot be applied in a piecemeal fashion."
For more information, check out the Federation’s position statement page.
In health care settings with limited resources, you may need to ration care, and while your health authority or hospital may have guidelines about this, rest assured that this very
very emotional and difficult decision you won’t ever need to make on your own.
For example, the globe and mail published an article on B.C.’s decision-making framework around the allocation of scarce resources. Dr. Bonnie Henry, the Provincial Health Officer, stated that the framework means that “no single individual clinician or a health-care worker will have to make those entirely terrible decisions on their own.”
That said, if you’re working under these circumstances, Eike-Henner Kluge, the leading medical ethicist who established the Canadian Medical Association’s Department of Ethics, said the real distress comes from being put in that situation and having to apply the guidelines in individual cases. Making decisions like this can lead to burn-out and burden.
To reduce burn-out and burden, make sure you take care of yourself. Sounds easy enough right? However, under stressful situations it’s just as easy to forget.
Make sure you get enough rest and remember to eat! Exhaustion and hunger exacerbate stress. Reducing stress and looking out for yourself is critical to protecting your own health, so that you can continue to be there for your patients and your family.
This also means things such as taking the time to be sure you and your team members have put on your protective equipment correctly, and taking even more care when removing the equipment so you don’t contaminate yourself or others in the process.
Join a community, speak to a supervisor or friend, and make sure you’re not bottling anything up inside. Sometimes connecting and being able to talk openly is a good way to release tensions.
At work, you will have the support and camaraderie of your fellow health workers, who share the common goal to defeat the virus. But when you’re off the clock, your friends and family may be wary of being around you for fear of being exposed to any chance of catching COVID-19 - despite what the statistics show and every precaution you’ve taken. Don’t take this personally or let it wear you down. We are in unprecedented times and as you’ve probably already seen, people handle and deal with situations in very different ways. Just remember, you are doing a very important job and people recognize this.
Knowing how long the coronavirus lives, how to wash and disinfect your scrubs, what PPE you’ll need and how to comfortably wear a face mask are some of the small things you can do to reduce the amount of stress you’re under.
Don’t forget to take good care of yourself and keep the big picture in mind - you are saving lives in this worldwide pandemic and there is a hierarchy of care in place to guide you each day.
Emma Caplan writes and edits client-facing documents and takes pride in making them sales-ready and reader-friendly. She has additional experience in quality control and proofreading. She has written articles and podcast summaries for the Vancouver Real Estate Podcast, edited fiction and non-fiction books, and volunteers as a copy editor for Editors BC’s West Coast Editor and Students for High Impact Charities.
Emma has also earned a certificate in editing and a bachelor of management degree. In her free time, Emma enjoys hiking, travelling, and creating jewelry. Connect with her on LinkedIn.