With COVID-19 cases rising in many states and new information coming out seemingly every day about the virus and the disease it causes, it’s an interesting time to be working in the medical field, to say the least. For some of us, it can be concerning and maybe even a little scary, especially if you’re going into a facility you don’t normally work at or for the first very time.
We want you to feel comfortable and be safe on your shifts. If you’re worried about your risk of working at a facility with a positive COVID-19 case, here are the ways that staffing agencies, facilities, and health care professionals (HCPs) are working to reduce risks.
How Staffing Agencies Help Reduce Risk
Health care staffing agencies closely track COVID-19 positive cases at the facilities they contract with. It benefits no one when health care workers are unknowingly exposed to COVID-19 cases and have to quarantine. Not only does the HCP have to disrupt their lives to quarantine, but both the agency and the facilities lose out on a valuable worker.
Staffing agencies listen to their facilities and their contract HCPs to learn more about a facility’s situation. They also regularly check their state’s Department of Health for updates on facilities with positive cases. Since we can’t be there on the floor all the time, we rely on our network and communication to keep us informed.
When we learn of positive COVID-19 tests in a facility, we track the situation and work with facilities to make sure agency staff are taken care of and infection prevention strategies are in place. If a facility wants you to participate in additional training, then we communicate it to you, the HCP. We also make sure that our agency staff know when they are signed up to fill a shift at a COVID-19 positive facility, and we work to negotiate a pay differential for hazard pay.
How Facilities Address Risk
Facilities don’t want to put any staff at risk. If staff get exposed and have to quarantine, that can mean being short-staffed for weeks. Rushed and overworked staff don’t always have the time to learn, remember, and follow new procedures, and details get missed or completely forgotten. And based on where you work, most, if not all, patients are at high risk for severe COVID-19 symptoms.
For that reason, facilities have taken their own steps to reduce the risk of introducing or spreading COVID-19 under their watch. They have new policies for visitors, either reducing or changing who can enter, or keeping them out completely. You’ll likely find cleaning and disinfectant procedures that you’ll need to learn and follow, and there will be enforced policies about personal protective equipment (PPE) usage.
Some facilities that are currently free of positive cases understandably want to stay that way. They may add requirements to HCPs that book shifts there, like the following:
- They may require any HCP to get a COVID-19 test before scheduling a shift.
- They might request an agency not to schedule any HCP who has recently worked at a facility with positive cases, even if the HCP didn’t directly care for patients with positive results.
- Any HCP with any sort of symptoms of being sick isn’t allowed to work a shift there.
- When HCPs come directly from another facility, the new facility might require them to change their scrubs and clothes before coming to work there.
- And of course, any HCPs who get sick or test positive for COVID-19 should contact the staffing agency immediately, so the staffing agency can let the facility know.
- Facilities with positive COVID-19 cases among their patients have taken many common steps to protect other patients and staff. They isolate the positive patients in a designated and separate part of the facility. And the staff that works to care for those patients are almost always facility staff who can be dedicated to giving care directly to those areas.
How You Can Reduce Your Risk
You are probably the most important factor that you can control in reducing your own risk when working at a facility with positive COVID-19 cases. While you can’t control how the facility handles its risk management or how patients, visitors, or other staff act, you can and should take all the steps you can to protect yourself.
- Wash your hands often — this means every time you move to a different patient, whenever you leave a room, and when you take off and put on your mask. It doesn’t matter whether or not your hands are visibly dirty; wash them anyway.
- Don’t touch your face.
- Don’t touch your mask once it’s on. When you take the mask off, either throw it away or put it in a place where it won’t contaminate anything around it.
- Use the right PPE for the job. If you’re doing a procedure that’ll produce aerosol spray, suit up for airborne precautions.
- Wear your PPE correctly. That means don’t pull your mask below your nose or your chin.
- When you get home, put your clothes immediately into the wash and take a shower before you sit down or go through the rest of the house.
- Know the facility’s procedures regarding how they’re working to prevent COVID-19 and take the time to follow those policies.
Ideally, you’ll never go to a facility without knowing ahead of time if it has positive COVID-19 cases. But the situation can change quickly, and with cases being asymptomatic or taking days to show symptoms, sometimes we won’t find out about an exposure until a few days after it’s happened.
If you arrive at a shift in a facility that has a recently confirmed COVID-19 positive case, and you weren’t made aware of it before the shift, let your agency representative know. If the facility finds out it had a positive case after your shift and you might have been exposed, work with your agency representative to know what you should do next.
So What’s My Risk?
There are no sure answers or numbers showing your guaranteed risk for working in a facility with positive COVID-19 tests, but there are many steps being taken along the way to try to reduce that risk as much as possible. Work with your agency to know what to expect in regards to how available PPE is and whether or not you’ll be working directly with positive COVID-19 patients when you book a shift.