Infection Preventionist Offers Holiday Safety Tips

November 26, 2020
Frank Diamond

Susan E. Campbell, PhD, CIC, offers advice to infection preventionists and other healthcare professionals who’ll be working Thanksgiving on how to safely eat their holiday meal together.

Just a small portion of advice the day before Thanksgiving. Susan E. Campbell, PhD, CIC, is an infection control coach who recently sat down with Infection Control Today® to discuss many topics having to do with her area of expertise. Below is an excerpt of a much longer conversation in which Campbell—a certified infection preventionist with a doctoral degree in microbiology—discusses safe approaches to eating a Thanksgiving meal for infection preventionists and other healthcare workers who have to work tomorrow. Also, even though a good portion of the public is listening to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and keeping Thanksgiving celebrations limited so as to slow the spread of the disease, a good many other people will travel, presenting opportunities to this opportunistic pathogen. Those people should take the party outdoors if they can. Campbell says that “if somebody has one of those backyard fire pits, this is an excellent time to fire it up and make some s'mores around the fire and wear your nice down jackets. And please avoid singing loud songs because, once again, you’re going to just be propelling the aerosol to the person 20 feet or 30 feet away from you.”

Infection Control Today®: We’re starting to head into the holidays and people are in the mood to mingle and party. Any words about having fun in the midst of a pandemic?

Susan E. Campbell, PhD,CIC: Certainly. I think that in a healthcare setting, staff have to eat. And it’s ideal if they can go out and eat in their car safely away from others. But I think people also need to somehow experience some relief and some camaraderie, and they look forward to those gatherings. The problem is you can’t eat with a mask on. And here we are in a situation where in some facilities, some individuals who are known COVID-positive, but asymptomatic, are being asked to work because they’re just out of healthcare staff. I think such individuals should take it upon themselves to not participate in group eating when they know they’re infected, because there’s truly no safe way that they can be close to their comrades, their coworkers, when they’re having lunches or any kind of party. But we also need to think about the airflow. And even when hospitals have done the minimum six room air exchanges per hour, when you have a number of people in one small room, that probably is not going to be enough. So best thing to do would be to be in a room with large windows that can be opened and a door that can be opened. And people wear their coats where they’re going to be eating in a communal way, so that they can maintain their social distancing, but also have some fresh air involved to reduce the aerosol that may be circulating. It would be preferable to even open those windows and doors before this gets started so that the room air can be fresher before people start entering. And I would suggest that particularly for home parties as well. And especially if somebody has one of those backyard fire pits, this is an excellent time to fire it up and make some s'mores around the fire and wear your nice down jackets. And please avoid singing loud songs because, once again, you’re going to just be propelling the aerosol to the person 20 feet or 30 feet away from you. But you know, speak loudly enough to be heard and enjoy the camaraderie but be in as much fresh air as you possibly can be. And once again, if you know that you may have been in contact with someone who could be positive, or if you yourself have gotten a positive diagnosis, until you’ve been cleared by your physician or nurse practitioner, please don’t take off your mask and enjoy a communal eating situation. You could put others in danger. And I know nobody wants to do that knowingly, but they might just not be thinking about it. So, I’m here to remind you.