Treating infectious diseases, including the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), is not new to hospitals, and the guidelines for protecting patients, staff and visitors are comprehensive and evidence-based.

You hear often that COVID-19 patients are treated in isolation and while specific elements of COVID-19 isolation may differ from other infectious diseases, the fundamental practices for isolation treatment do not. Isolation is meant to prevent spread of infectious diseases between patients and the staff members treating them, between patients and their visitors, and between patients and other patients, staff members and visitors throughout the hospital.

It’s important to note that many patients are treated using various isolation practices, for everything from pink eye to COVID-19. Isolation practices vary based on how a specific infectious disease is spread.

• If the disease is primarily spread through physical contact, staff members and visitors will follow guidelines specific to preventing spread through direct or indirect contact, which includes things like wearing gloves and a gown and handwashing.

• If the disease is spread through droplets of mucus or saliva, staff members and visitors will follow guidelines specific to preventing spread through droplets, which includes wearing a mask, gown and gloves and routine handwashing when working closely with the patient.

• If the disease is spread through airborne particles that can be spread through inhalation, staff members and visitors will follow guidelines specific to preventing spread through air, which includes placing patients in rooms with monitored negative air pressure (to prevent spread through air circulation to other parts of the hospital) and wearing an N95 respirator for respiratory protection while in the room.

Fundamental safety practices for treating patients in isolation are consistent, though, no matter how the disease is spread, and these include:

• Handwashing: Handwashing is the bedrock of hospital safety and infection prevention. All staff members wash their hands or use a hand sanitizing solution upon entry and exit of the room, and even between treatments on the same patient when appropriate. Handwashing is done even if gloves are worn while in the room.

• Patient placement and transport: Patients in isolation are assigned to private rooms and additional safety precautions are taken any time they are transported between departments or rooms.

• Personal protective equipment: Staff members and visitors entering isolation rooms wear personal protective equipment (PPE). The required PPE varies based on how the specific disease is spread and, in the case of COVID-19, includes eye protection, N95 respirator, gown and gloves.

• Nutrition, environmental services and more: Staff members who deliver food or provide cleaning services follow strict guidelines and limit unnecessary entry to isolation rooms. These practices ensure patients still receive excellent care and service while limiting additional exposure and conserving PPE use.

As a patient or visitor to the hospital or an outpatient clinic, you will be asked to wear a mask, and you will also notice that all of our staff members, in every department, are wearing masks, too. Universal masking is a proactive measure we’re taking to significantly reduce the potential spread of illness.

This, layered with our screening at each point of entry for all staff members, patients and visitors, provides additional protection for everyone in our facilities.

Out of an abundance of caution, we are taking a number of additional precautions in the treatment of patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19:

• We have dedicated a special isolation area for COVID-19 patients

• Special isolation area is converted to negative air pressure

• Staff working in COVID-19 isolation area only provide care for patients assigned to that area

These protective measures for managing infectious diseases ensure that our hospital is always safe for you and your loved ones when you need care.

Jessica Felker, RN, is involved in infection prevention at Starr Regional Medical Center

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Jessica Felker, BSN, RN, is involved in infection prevention at Starr Regional Medical Center

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