IPs in Early Stages of COVID-19 Were Wanted to Point of Exhaustion


“IPs reported more empowerment, credibility and value to their facilities during the pandemic,” states a study unveiled today at the annual APIC conference.

Infection preventionists (IPs) suffered from extreme exhaustion after the first wave of COVID-19 hit the United States in 2020, but also feel that the pandemic helped to bolster their standing among other health care workers. Those are a couple of the implications of a study released today at the annual conference of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC). Investigators with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City posted a survey for IPs on March 8, 2020, asking them about their experiences dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey was taken every two weeks between May 15, 2020 and July 15, 2020.

“Descriptive statistics were used to analyze quantitative data, thematic analysis was used for qualitative data,” the study states. “Participation was voluntary and no Institutional Review Board review was sought.”

Over 14 survey rounds, 52 IPs completed 154 surveys, with 42% completing 1 survey and 4% completing 11. Four countries were represented including the United States, with IPs in 16 U.S. states participating. Most of the participants worked in acute care. “Respondents worked significant overtime in March [2020] (mean 68 hours/week) and April [2020] (mean 51 hours/week), and observed decreases in COVID-19 patient census in the first half of May [2020],” the study states.

Respondents focused on basic IP practices and shortages of personal protective equipment. “Overall, IPs reported high stress early in study, with emotional exhaustion peaking at the end of the study.”

Tania Bubb, PhD, RN, CIC, is the director of infection control at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and one of the authors of the study. She tells Infection Control Today® that “we did note that stress level was high during the beginning phases of the study … then kind of evened out in May. I think there was this lull in May, where the average stress level seemed to plateau…. And then in late June and early July, it spiked up a little bit and [we’re] unsure why. At that point, we had fewer and fewer people taking the survey so it might be just an anomaly of outlier here.”

However, perhaps because they were so relied on, IPs in the survey consider their experience in the early stages of the pandemic to be mostly positive.

“IPs reported more empowerment, credibility and value to their facilities during the pandemic,” the study states, and concludes: “IPs are specialized health care workers at the heart of managing this pandemic. IPs predictably worked long hours, were concerned about PPE and basics of infection prevention that are critical to keeping staff safe.”

Bubb says that “in terms of teamwork and camaraderie, IPs really felt a sense of—[among] themselves and [between] other medical professionals or health care workers—that they were on one team. That they were a part of this camaraderie that was uplifting and validating. And that was experienced throughout the whole study. Now, I think IPs really testify to feeling validated during the first part where they felt like, ‘Oh, people know us. They know that we exist. They know that we have expertise. That we have the knowledge and they’re consulting with us for recommendations.’”

While that feeling may have died down among other health care professionals, Bubb has not qualms about singing the praises of how IPs reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They may not have taken care of patients directly, but their policies, their procedures, their vigilance, and their enthusiasm for their jobs supported those who took care of the patients and laid the groundwork for how those who took care of the patients would remain safe,” says Bubb.

Here’s ICT®’s Q&A with Tania Bubb, PhD, RN, CIC.

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