Infectious diseases have been part of human existence for centuries, and there have been numerous outbreaks of viruses. But not all outbreaks reach the pandemic level as the new coronavirus COVID-19 has. The virus first appeared in Wuhan, China, but travelers brought it to different parts of the world, and as by the middle of April 2020, there are more than 2 million infected around the globe. The numbers keep rising, and many governments in the world have ordered mandatory lockdowns to prevent the virus from spreading.
A person can catch COVID-19 from droplets of the saliva of an infected person. That’s why it’s essential to keep the distance from others. But the virus can live on different surfaces, and the other way of getting infected is by touching the surface and then touching the face with unwashed hands. Another recommendation is to wash hands frequently and avoid touching the face. As there is no vaccine available for the new coronavirus, the most effective way of keeping the virus from spreading, is following the recommendations on hygiene and rules of social distancing.
The biggest problem with COVID-19 is the increasing number of patients who become ill simultaneously. Even countries with the most robust health care systems face issues such as no available spots at hospitals, not enough health care specialists, and lack of medical resources such as face masks, gowns, and gloves. But the problem gets even more prominent when health workers on the front line of defeating the virus are among the infected.
COVID-19 Taking Lives of Health Workers
Although there are no exact numbers or statistics about health workers dying from COVID-19, it is evident that the new virus took the lives of many medical professionals. According to Business Insider, at least 3,400 Chinese healthcare workers got infected, and 13 of them died because of the illness.
Health professionals dying from the new virus is not only decreasing the number of available medical personnel but increases the risk of spreading the virus to patients.
“The thinning ranks of doctors and nurses, particularly in Spain, are hampering the ability to fight the epidemic, straining hospitals, and raising fears that health workers are spreading the coronavirus.”
– Writes the New York Times.
In Spain, nearly 14% of infected patients are health workers, and in Europe, at least 30 health care professionals have died because of COVID-19, and thousands had to be isolated.
“In France, the public hospital system in Paris has tallied 490 infected staff members, a small but growing proportion of the system’s 100,000 or so employees.”
Al Jazeera wrote in March 2020 that in Italy, at least 2,629 health workers were among those infected; this is a massive number considering that there is a shortage of medical professionals and medical resources around the world.
We don’t exactly know how many health professionals are infected or have died in the United States because of the new illness.
“The risk to our healthcare workers is one of the great vulnerabilities of our healthcare system in an epidemic like this.”
–Liam Yore, a board member of the Washington state chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians.
The Guardian and Kaiser Health News have launched a project Lost on Frontline to document the life of every healthcare worker in the US who dies from COVID-19 during the outbreak. (If you have a colleague or loved one that they should include in the project, click here.) The goal of the project is to track US health workers who die from the virus. It will be a nationwide database of healthcare workers’ stories and the impact of the pandemic on the medical staff, which will also shed light on the workings and failings of the healthcare system.
“Our count will include any healthcare worker who was likely exposed while helping patients with COVID-19 during the pandemic. That includes nurses, paramedics, doctors, and other medical workers who treat patients, operate ambulances, and take X-rays. It includes nursing home staff and home health aides who are caring for patients outside of hospitals.”
– The Guardian.
People who are at the highest risk of getting the new disease are those who care for patients with COVID-19. Health care workers are exposed daily to the new coronavirus, and the number of infected medical staff also keeps increasing around the world. If the number of available medical workers decreases, and the number of patients increases, the world will have to face a catastrophe. To avoid this scenario, health workers should follow different steps when treating patients, and we should follow the recommendations from the CDC.
Steps Health Workers Should Take
Health workers at the front line of the outbreak response are at the highest risk of infection. For maximum safety, all health workers should participate in occupational safety and health training provided by their employers. They should use, take off, and dispose of PPE properly. Health specialists should monitor themselves for symptoms of the disease, and in case they suspect the infection, self-isolate, and report the illness to employers.
How Health Workers Can Prevent Getting Infected
Medical staff in close contact with infected patients should take preventive measures to prevent getting the illness. Medical professionals should use PPE appropriately when treating patients with COVID-19; this means selecting proper PPE and proper knowledge of using it. Medical centers should train their staff on using PPE equipment – putting on, using, and disposing of it properly.
Health care workers who are not involved in the direct care of infected patients should not enter the rooms of COVID-19 patients.
Disruptions in the Global Supply Chain of PPE
The global stockpile of PPE is insufficient, especially for medical masks and respirators, according to WHO. The situation is becoming worse by panic buying and stockpiling, and the capacity to expand PPE production is limited. Because there are not enough masks, even health workers should use them depending on the risk of exposure.
Health workers who treat patients with COVID-19 should use gowns, gloves, medical masks, and eye protection such as goggles or face shields. For aerosol-generating procedures (e.g., tracheal intubation, non-invasive ventilation, tracheostomy, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, manual ventilation before intubation, bronchoscopy) health care workers should use respirators, eye protection, gloves, and gowns; aprons should also be used if gowns are not fluid resistant. – according to WHO.
Who Needs PPE
Patients with confirmed or possible SARS-CoV-2 infection should wear a facemask when being evaluated medically
Healthcare personnel should adhere to Standard and Transmission-based Precautions when caring for patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection, according to the CDC.
We Should Reserve Medical Masks for Health Professionals
The mask you are wearing at home while having an online conversation with a friend might have saved someone’s life and doesn’t change anything for you at the moment. You don’t need to wear a mask when you are home alone, or driving a car alone, having a Zoom meeting, playing video games, or watching TV.
Even outdoors, the mask may create a false sense of security, yet when people forget other steps such as washing hands and keeping the distance from others. Wearing a medical mask may also increase the desire to touch your face more often. The best is to use a cloth face cover, keeping the distance, and washing hands so that you can prevent spreading the virus while not using medical masks meant for medical personnel.
“The use of a mask alone is insufficient to provide the adequate level of protection, and other equally relevant measures should be adopted. If masks are to be used, this measure must be combined with hand hygiene and other IPC measures to prevent the human-to-human transmission of 2019-nCov.”
When masks are short in supply and health workers around the world are on the front line in the battle of the virus, we should stop panic-buying them and leave it for medical professionals. If more health workers become ill, there will be not enough doctors to treat infected patients. The health of medical workers should be our top priority.
Wear a mask if you have symptoms of COVID-19, isolate yourself, and seek medical advice as soon as you start to feel unwell. The most common symptoms for COVID-19 are fever, cough, sore throat, and difficulty breathing.
If you don’t feel sick, there is no need to wear a medical mask.
Symptomatic People Visiting a Health Care Setting Should:
Wear a medical mask in the waiting areas and during transportation within the facility;
Don’t wear a medical mask when isolated in a single room, but cover their mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing with disposable tissues. They should dispose of tissues appropriately and wash their hands immediately afterward. – According to WHO.
Health Care Workers Should:
Wear a medical mask when entering a room with patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19. Use a particulate respirator at least as protective as a US National Institute for Occupational Safety. Health certified N95, European Union standard FFP2, or equivalent when performing or working in settings where aerosol-generating procedures, such as tracheal intubation, non-invasive ventilation, tracheotomy, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, manual ventilation before intubation, and bronchoscopy are performed. – According to WHO.
Everyone Else Should:
The best way to help the health professionals across the globe is to prevent getting ill with the new virus and spreading it. According to the CDC, everyone should:
- Regularly wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Stay home as much as possible.
- Keep the distance from other people.
- Cover mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others
- Wear a cloth face cover when they have to go out in public, for example to the grocery store or to pick up other necessities.
- Do NOT use a facemask meant for a healthcare worker.
- Continue to keep about 6 feet with others even when using the cloth face cover.
- Cover coughs and sneezes
- Throw used tissues in the trash.
- Immediately wash hands after sneezing or coughing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Alternatively, clean your hands with a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- Clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.
- If surfaces are dirty, clean them. Use detergent or soap and water before disinfection.
- Then, use a household disinfectant.