It is the greatest fear physicians—and all others working in the healthcare profession—currently face: what if they unknowingly infect their families and loved ones with novel coronavirus (COVID-19)?
Some are going as far as living apart from their families for the duration of the crisis, according to news reports and an article posted on the American Medical Association’ web site.
“Obviously it is heavy on the mind of all providers who are working with patients who are infected and those who we don’t know that are infected with COVID-19,” said Mark Rupp, MD, professor and chief of the infectious diseases division at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) in Omaha, in the AMA article. “All of us are having those questions and concerns as we head home to our family and loved ones.”
While Rupp believes it is important to for physicians to take steps to protect themselves and their families at work and home, he doesn’t believe physicians need to completely stay away from their families. “That’s just not something that’s necessary, nor do I think it is healthy for people’s mental health,” Rupp said.
A physician’s family is key to maintaining optimal mental health while facing the uncertainty of COVID-19 at hospitals, health systems, and practices, he noted.
“Some of these emotional supports that people need and require are very important, and if we get into a situation where we're expecting healthcare providers to come to work and then go home and be isolated, that is not going to be a healthy situation for anybody,” Rupp said.
Rupp’s top 6 tips for protecting yourself and your family during the pandemic include:
1. Anyone who enters the organization should be immediately screened for a fever or respiratory disease and should be “immediately taken into the appropriate setting to where they can be evaluated and cared for as safely as possible,” Rupp said.
“The first and probably most important step is not so much what you do when you get home, but it’s what you’re doing at work that really is going to count. What I mean is that you need to be using the appropriate precautions when you encounter patients,” Rupp added.
2. Use the appropriate respiratory protection, gowns, gloves, droplet protection, and N95 or higher respiratory protection when dealing with infected patients.
3. Patient contact and the number of healthcare professionals interacting with a potentially infected patient can be reduced by use of telehealth or other electronic means to interact. “Institutions need to concentrate on providing as safe a work environment as possible with careful attention to administrative and engineering controls to reduce risk,” Rupp said.
4. Proper hand washing and not touching your face is “by far the most important thing to do to protect your family,” Rupp said. “Before you leave work or the first thing you do when you want to get home, it would be a reasonable thing to wash your hands carefully or use the hand gels,” said Dr. Rupp.
5. Physicians don’t need to change clothes in the garage or another area before entering their home. “There really isn't any information that if you're using appropriate gowns and gloves at work that you need to worry about bringing the coronavirus home on your clothing,” Rupp said.
However, to have a “little peace of mind”, physicians can wash their hands and change out of their work clothes when they arrive home. “If you put your clothes through just normal laundry, that should take care of things just fine, Rupp said.
6. Don’t share plates, cups, utensils, toothbrushes, and other items with family members. It is important to “practice a little bit of common sense precautions with your family,” Rupp noted.