Infection Preventionists, Get Ready for New COVID Waves

October 16, 2020

It can be helpful for infection preventionists to still provide quick COVID-19 rounds in units and high-risk areas like emergency departments and urgent care clinics. These can be as simple as 30-minute reviews of personal protective equipment, isolation precautions, and communication pathways.

For many, the break was short-lived and for some, not at all. What seemed like forever ago, those early few months where New York City was entirely underwater with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases, is creating new concern for many. Cases in New York City are starting to bubble up, with targeted restrictions underway. Over 20 states have hit a new high in their seven-day average and for the better part of a month, news cases in the U.S. are growing.

The truth is that things are not looking that good for COVID-19 trends in the United States. And as we move into the busy season for healthcare and respiratory viruses, there is an uneasiness across infection prevention. One piece to this uneasiness is remembering how stressful the surges of COVID-19 have been. The other piece is, how to maintain a vigilant approach to preventing and controlling these infections within a healthcare setting. This is especially pertinent if hospital leadership is ready to move forward. Unfortunately, we’re just not there yet and no matter how much people might wish COVID-19 away, we have to keep marching ahead.

Working to maintain engagement with staff and leadership about COVID-19 when cases might not be high in your area is particularly challenging. As we’re seeing across the country though, COVID-19 comes in waves and surges that require us to be readily available and responsive. It can be helpful for infection preventionists to still provide quick COVID-19 rounds in units and high-risk areas like emergency departments and urgent care clinics. These can be as simple as 30-minute reviews of personal protective equipment, isolation precautions, and communication pathways. Rapid identification and isolation of patients suspected of having any respiratory infection is a good foundation that can serve us in times of COVID-19. Moreover, what are the current personal protective equipment (PPE) usage practices in your facility? Are staff re-using and/or extending the use of N95 respirators? Focused teaching on those practices, how to safely store them, and reminders on seal-checks when wearing them are helpful lessons that help reduce any risk for exposure.

One particular piece that is important though is ensuring hospital or healthcare facility leadership are engaged. This is a tough one—not all hospital leaders are invested in their infection prevention programs at the levels we wish. Not all hospital leaders want to still focus on COVID-19 (can we blame them though?). As we are seeing concerning trends in the U.S. though, maintaining that investment and engagement will be critical and perhaps that’s as simple as a weekly meeting about the current state of COVID-19 in your area and nationally. Sharing local and national data, PPE status, and needs as things change, is a strategy to continue the conversation and maintain focus. Despite our best wishes, COVID-19 isn’t going away any time soon and we must continuously work to respond to it. Practice makes permanence. The hard truth is that there might be severe waves in your area again—what lessons have you learned, what do you wish you’d done better, and how prepared are you now?