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Correcting 4 Common Errors with Hospital PPE and COVID-19

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The coronavirus pandemic forces elevated self-awareness among physicians, caregivers, and nurses. This is especially true with personal preventive equipment (PPE), and correcting some of the more widespread mistakes when wearing—or, in some cases, not wearing—clothes and supplies that help to slow the spread of contagions, viruses, and infections.

Here are four such errors, and how to ensure you don’t make them when working with COVID-19 patients.

  • Putting on and removing gloves improperly

Disposable gloves are absolute musts for any healthcare worker in the COVID-19 crisis, but they can carry pathogens and germs just as bare hands can. For that reason, it’s important to limit latex gloves’ contact with exposed skin, even the practitioner’s own.

The CDC strongly recommends putting on your gloves so they cover the wrist area of your isolation gown—sort of how old-time baseball players wore socks over the bottoms of their pant legs.

When removing gloves, assume they are contaminated. Grab the first glove you want to take off in the palm area and peel it off. Then slide your fingers under the wrist area of the second glove and remove it so it combines with the first. Again, think about socks: specifically, how one bunches a pair of matching socks in a ball when sorting clean laundry.

It bears repeating: Wash your hands thoroughly before you put gloves on and after you take them off.

  • Not properly sealing a respirator mask

Face masks offer some protection for both COVID-19 patients and the medical staff who come in contact with ever-escalating numbers of new cases. When a mask isn’t properly sealed against the transmission of oxygen molecules, that protection can be compromised.

To make sure your respirator mask is sealed correctly, place your hands over the mask and take a quick inhale of breath. Your mask should seal tightly. Next, place both your hands side-by-side over your mask and exhale. If you feel the air against your hands from the areas of your nosepiece or the edges, your mask needs to be readjusted until the seal is tight. If those adjustments don’t work, you’ll need to obtain a mask of another size.

  • Removing your mask by the front

In hectic situations like the COVID-19 pandemic, hospital workers should assume that every stitch of their used clothing is contaminated—even the protective wear. Both putting on and taking off PPE gear are important to monitor, but professionals should be extra mindful of their removal process.

Used respirator masks protect pathogens from spreading outside our mouths, but the front surface is vulnerable to contaminants. Once the mask goes on, your hands should never touch the mask itself. When taking the mask off, grab it by the straps in the back of your head—bottom strap first, upwards to the top strap, then removing and disposing of the mask without ever touching the front.

  • Not wearing lab coats

Whether or not to wear a lab coat is a strange controversy among medical professionals. Some in favor say it projects an image that patients trust and feel more comfortable about. Others opposed claimed white lab coats weren’t necessary, got dirty, and cause interns to be mistaken for fully accredited doctors.

COVID-19 has, at least temporarily, ended that debate. Lab coats offer at least some protection against the spread of viruses and infections. It’s also possible to obtain limited-use lab coats, similarly intended for single applications like gloves and respirator masks so full-on cloth coats aren’t necessary. Also, lab coats are part of the Center for Disease Control’s standard PPE set-up for medical professionals dealing with COVID-19 cases—meaning, if lab coats are not strictly required, they are very strongly suggested.

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