Yes, you can care for someone who has COVID-19 and keep yourself (and others) safe.
Concerns surrounding caregiving for someone with COVID-19 is understandable. While social media and the internet in general provide the world’s knowledge in seconds, the unintended side effect can be inaccurate information that can obscure what we really need to know.
We know the preventative measures to take to reduce transmission. We know symptoms to look for. We know who to contact in case emergency medical attention is needed.
Are there risks involved in caring for someone with COVID-19? Certainly. It is a virus that currently does not have a vaccine and it is highly contagious. Older adults are especially at risk.
When older adults become ill with COVID-19, they need care. Even prior to pandemic, our goal has been to provide the best possible care to our clients while making sure our caregivers have everything they need to work safely.
If you have a passion for taking care of the elderly, this guide is for you.
It has all the information you need to assure you that care can be done safely to help those who need it now more than ever.
Proper COVID-19 Protocols and PPE Usage for Caregivers
Our aim with this guide is not to downplay the seriousness of COVID-19 nor dismiss any concerns one might have working in an environment with those who have tested positive.
On the contrary, by emphasizing its seriousness, we hope these safety procedures will take greater consideration by our readers.
We’ll start with great resources to utilize to stay safe.
Where can I find the most accurate and latest information on COVID-19?
The best resources for updates on the pandemic can be found at several local and national health organization websites. They include:
- The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS) COVID-19 Response
- WakeCounty.gov COVID-19 Information
- The North Carolina Medical Society
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
These resources are your best bet for accurate information on COVID-19. They are on the front-lines every day working to contain the virus (and eventually eliminate it with a vaccine). They are professionals trained in disease control, public health, and/or epidemiology.
How to protect yourself and others
Care facilities for the elderly in the United States have implemented preventative measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19. These measures vary from facility to facility and may include:
- No visitors (including close family) other than essential medical personnel.
- One-way walking routes
- Adherence to six feet guideline of social distancing.
- Rearrangement of seating in rooms to adhere to social distancing.
That said, a caregiver still must protect themselves when entering these facilities. How can you protect yourself?
- Know how COVID-19 spreads: COVID-19 spreads through person-to-person contact or through respiratory droplets released through a cough, sneeze, or when someone is talking. The person with COVID-19 may not show symptoms, but they are still capable of spreading it through these methods.
- Hand hygiene: Cleanse your hands often with either soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 70% alcohol. Avoid touching your face, nose, or mouth. Always perform hand hygiene before eating or drinking anything.
- Social distancing: As previously mentioned, some people may carry COVID-19 and not show symptoms. Assume everybody has it. Keep at least six feet apart from others.
- Wear a face cover properly: Outside of a healthcare setting, a cloth facemask is sufficient to protect against potentially spreading the virus to others. It is essential to wear properly! The cover should cover the nose and mouth entirely. Otherwise, the cover serves no purpose. As a caregiver, you’ll be using KN95 medical masks along with protective items like face shields and gowns (which will be provided to you at no cost).
- Clean and Disinfect: Use disinfectant on surfaces that are frequently touched.
How do you know if you have been exposed to COVID-19?
There is a lot of misinformation and myths about being exposed to the COVID-19 virus.
Some people think just walking into a room for a couple of minutes with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 means you have been exposed and must get tested and quarantined. Based on what we know today from reliable sources such as the CDC, if this is the case, you have not been exposed.
CDC guidelines in terms of potential exposure to a person tested positive with COVID-19 is as follows:
- Close contact within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more. The positive COVID-19 person may be symptomatic or asymptomatic.
What to do when you are or believe you have been exposed to COVID-19?
Based on the published guidelines above and you feel you have been exposed to COVID-19, what should you do? Here are the guidelines for our caregivers:
- Caregivers get tested after 72 hours or sooner if symptoms are present. We provide them with testing resources and sites.
- We immediately take them off shift and advise self-quarantine. CDC provides the following guidelines for self-quarantine:
- You must quarantine in a room away from others in the home. This could be a bedroom with access to a personal bathroom for you to use.
- Monitor yourself twice a day for symptoms of a fever of 100.4 or higher, chills, cough, and respiratory symptoms. You should get tested if symptoms start
- Stay away from others while you are self-isolating. Family or loved ones can leave your food outside the door or come into the room if you are too sick to get out of bed with cloth face covering. They will need to cleanse their hands upon exiting your room.
- Do not share personal items such as cups, silverware, or toothbrushes. Your dishes should be disposable or handled by a person wearing gloves. Wash your dishes in a dishwasher or in hot water with gloves.
When can our caregivers return to work?
According to the CDC – Return to Work Criteria for HCP with SARS-CoV-2 Infection Symptom-based strategy for determining when HCP can return to work, A Healthcare Professional with mild to moderate illness who are not severely immunocompromised:
- At least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared and
- At least 24 hours have passed since last fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and,
- Symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath) have improved
Note: HCP who are not severely immunocompromised and are asymptomatic throughout their infection may return to work when at least 10 days have passed since the date of their first positive viral diagnostic test.
How do we keep our caregivers safe when caring for a person tested positive for COVID-19?
There’s nothing more important than protecting our caregivers and our clients from the spread of COVID-19. To do this, both the client and our caregivers follow safety protocols we have adopted following guidance from the CDC and other trusted resources.
Clients who tested positive for the COVID-19 virus are required to self-isolate and quarantine. Whether they live in a community or a home, the following protocols are communicated to them and family:
- They must wear a KN-95 mask or above when our caregivers are providing personal care. Unless doing so would make their respiratory symptoms worse or cause them to be short of breath.
- Limit contact with other family members and pets during quarantine. No outside visitors are permitted. The house or apartment will have a trash can available for the disposal of potentially contaminated items and PPE.
Our caregivers are trained how to properly don and remove PPE. They are also trained how to provide personal care to a client while minimizing exposure. Here are the protocols we have established:
- Aware employees are asked screening questions when they receive their shift reminder the day before their shift. In answering the questions, it has them take the time to think about how they are feeling. Many times caregivers are the last to think of themselves. IF they do not feel well – for ANY reason- they call us and we reassign the shift.
- Temperature checks prior to entering any community or facility where we are providing care.
- Aware employees are trained on COVID care procedures outlined below which includes wearing full PPE. PPE required includes a KN 95 mask, face shield, gloves and a disposable gown.
- Employees wear face masks at all times while on shift except when eating/drinking. Seated at least 6’ apart while eating/mask off.
- Clients are asked to wear masks when an aide is providing personal care – except for showers. Aides stand behind residents during showers.
- Hand hygiene upon entering a building or house on-going throughout the day. Gloves while providing personal care, removed before leaving the apartment, trash is emptied as last task.
- Aware limits assignments to other clients and facilities. When we provide consistent, on-going schedules the aides can count on, they do not look to work other places.
- We respond immediately to any exposure or possible exposure to COVID-19. Err on the side of caution and follow CDC guidelines.
Are we truly safe caring for a person tested positive for COVID-19?
This virus is novel. Research into COVID-19 is ongoing, but for now, the measures above are your best bet to prevent the spread until a viable vaccine is available.
We do know that early on, when hospitals and facilities could not get PPE, there were many instances of health care workers who contracted the virus. They were not able to protect themselves while they were working.
At Aware Senior Care, we speak from experience. We have cared for and come into contact with clients who have tested positive for COVID-19. By following the protocols we established, none of our employees have contracted COVID-19 from clients under our care. There’s no guarantee this will always be the case, but this has been our experience to date.
The pandemic continues as does our clients’ need for home care in communities as well in private homes. We’re blessed to have caregivers with tremendous hearts who follow the guidelines while providing care to our clients.
We hope this blog has been helpful in your decision to join our COVID-19 care team.
God bless and thank you for being a caregiver!
To join our team as one of our COVID Team Caregivers, visit our website under employment to review the special Aware COVID-19 caregiver compensation and benefits package.