It is the greatest fear physicians and all others working in health care 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’s website. “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,” Mark Rupp, M.D., a professor and chief of the infectious diseases division at University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) in Omaha, said in the article. “All of us are having those questions and concerns as we head home to our family and loved ones.”
Although Rupp says he believes it is important that physicians take steps to protect themselves and their families at work and home, he doesn’t believe physicians must 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,” he said.
Family support is key to helping a physician maintain 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 health care providers to come to work and then go home and be isolated, that is not going to be a healthy situation for anybody.”
Rupp’s top six tips for protecting yourself and your family during the pandemic are as follows:
1 Immediately screen anyone who enters the health care organization for fever or respiratory illness; if either are present, that person should be “immediately taken into the appropriate setting 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. … You need to be using the appropriate precautions when you encounter patients.”
2 Use appropriate respiratory protection, gowns, gloves, droplet protection and N95 or higher respiratory protection when dealing with infected patients.
3 Reduce contact and the number of health care professionals interacting with a potentially infected patient via telehealth or other electronic means. “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 Practice proper hand-washing. “(This is) by far the most important thing to do to protect your family,” Rupp said. Also crucial: Avoid touching your face.
5 Change out of work clothes after arriving home if it provides “a little piece of mind,” Rupp said. There is no need to change in the garage or another area outside the 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. “If you put your clothes through just normal laundry, that should take care of things just fine.”
6 Don’t share plates, cups, utensils, toothbrushes and similar items. “Practice common-sense precautions with your family,” Rupp said.