With 4,226 confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) infections in the United States (as of 3-17-20), healthcare facilities have been putting procedures in place to manage the virus should it darken their doorstep.
When a dangerous outbreak occurs, our minds go directly to preventing the spread by human behavior (Proper hand washing is still the top preventative measure even with something as dangerous as the coronavirus). But, the other side of the equation in infection prevention is stopping the transmission via the environment (e.g. surfaces in a facility).
An abstract published on the National Center for Biotechnology Information states that 22 studies have found that other types of human coronaviruses (such as SARS, MERS and HCoV) can persist on surfaces like metal, glass or plastic for up to 9 days at room temperature.
ES Optimizer Users Weigh In
We asked some of the Environmental Services Directors using ES Optimizer how they are preparing their team to handle COVID-19 in the event there is an infection at their facility. They are working with their Infection Prevention and Compliance professionals on establishing and following protocols to sterilize the environment.
An effective response involves:
1. Disinfecting the environment when COVID-19 is present
EVS professionals must ensure they have the right cleaning agents on hand by following CDC recommendations to determine which disinfectants are effective against the virus. They also must adhere to instructions for proper use and protocol exactly. See the CDC Advisory for types of disinfectants that are effective against COVID-19.
2. Keeping EVS professionals who are cleaning the environment safe
Environmental Services Technicians performing the work must have the appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment). Hospitals need to plan ahead and procure this if they don’t already have it. EVS professionals must be trained in proper donning and doffing procedure for PPE so the virus isn’t transmitted by the equipment. The CDC provides guidelines for this as well.
3. Safely discarding waste
EVS departments have to familiarize themselves with CDC guidelines for safe waste disposal, then develop a process that puts the hospital in compliance. One EVS Department’s policy will be to wrap the PPE and cleaning materials three times in red biohazard bags and then autoclave it.
4. A plan to ensure compliance with these and CDC protocols by the staff
Having a policy is the first step. Mobilizing the workforce to follow it is next. EVS departments need to develop strategies for relaying emerging information about the coronavirus to employees, and make certain that all EVS professionals are following CDC guidelines.
One facility has identified a few specially skilled EVS technicians who will handle the affected areas should the time come. They are receiving regular training and updates on the procedures. Limiting this function to a few high-performing employees makes managing compliance easier.
Infection Prevention is best managed with a collaboration between human interaction and the environment. Environmental services teams help to maintain a safe environment, making them a critical part of the hospital, infection prevention, and patient health. Below are more resources for facilities and environmental services professionals to track developments in the COVID-19 outbreak as new information is disseminated by the experts.
- The CDC even published an advisory for Environmental Services here
- The CDC’s Guide to Donning, Use & Doffing of Personal Protective Equipment
- A comprehensive list of resources maintained by the American Hospital Association