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Coronavirus Cleaning – Keeping Your Family Safe After Your Shift
- To those of us working with COVID patients and receiving constant virus exposure is still a concern to our health and safety. Not only an individual risk, but we pose as a risk to our loved ones too after our shift ends.
- Understanding the difference between cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting is a good start to proper coronavirus cleaning. Utilizing resources like the CDC and EPA N List are great guidelines to help us practice good cleaning practices and select appropriate products.
- As nurses, it is our due diligence to keep our loved ones safe and spread awareness of infection control practices amidst seasonal viruses and the COVID pandemic.
RN, BSN, MSN, CNM, CDR, USN-retired
The Covid-19 pandemic has made me a germaphobe.
As nurses we quickly got to work and donned PPE and washed our hands until they were raw. We have indentations from the N-95 mask that may forever be etched on our faces as the mark of nurses.
I secretly spied on housekeepers and saw them cut corners and know that I can do a better job in my home but wonder if that would even make a difference.
At the end of the shift we walk to the car and know the bacteria and viruses follow us home. Some staff change clothes in the parking lot and secure contaminated clothing in a garbage bag and lock It in the trunk, only to be banished to the scalding hot water of the washing machine.
We watch the bleach, detergent and hot water annihilate the germs. Others shower before anyone can come close to them.
We feel a sense of victory after such a difficult day at work fighting as the COVID virus tries to kill our patients, but then think how what will we just did, affect our families. It is not fair.
Some go as far as physically distancing themselves from family during the height of the pandemic.
Sadly, this leads to such loneliness and confusion. Especially with our toddlers who long for those bear hugs from Mom and Dad. What can we do to keep ourselves and our families safe? Proper coronavirus cleaning techniques and products must be used.
I have three solid recommendations besides the basic infection control practices we learned on the first day of nursing school.
First, become familiar with the various levels of “cleaning” to remove pathogens. Second, stay current with higher authority guidelines with the EPA and CDC. Third, know how to use the EPA N List to identify products to effectively disinfect your home.
It is important to know the difference between clean, sanitize and disinfect. It really does matter!
To clean is not enough in a pandemic. It is the act of using soap or detergent to remove dirt and organic matter from the surface.
For example, I just made dinner and I have pasta sauce and cheese caked on the counter that I need to clean up with dish washing soap and hot water.
Sanitizing is one step better. It kills bacteria on the surface with the use of chemicals. However, sanitizing does not kill viruses.
An example is: I cut up raw chicken on the cutting board and now I need to sanitize it to avoid Salmonella poisoning. I use a diluted bleach spray, scrub with hot water and rinse. It is probably overkill, but I love bleach. The germaphobe in me comes out.
Disinfecting uses chemicals on surfaces that kills both bacteria and viruses.
For example, Caleb asked to be taken to Urgent Care for a bad cold and came to find out, he has COVID. I need to disinfect my car. I’m glad I had my mask on…. I have handy disinfecting wipes to do the job. I check the EPA N list and see that this is used for coronavirus cleaning, so I am good to go.
Infection Control Practices
Secondly, the CDC and EPA are two reliable resources to help with infection control. The media will sensationalize stories and at times artificially create panic with the latest findings. Those of us with a strong science background can be the voice of reason and can help the average person make sense of all this data.
We can go directly to the key sources and sort out the facts and not fall prey to these games the media plays. We may take this for granted, but it truly is a valuable contribution to our community.
Furthermore, the EPA benefits the consumer and helps to regulate the manufacturers claims on products. These must be accurate and backed up by science. It is part of the registration process and it is the EPA’s responsibility to verify data.
Products that “clean” only, are not registered by the EPA. Don’t expect to see an EPA registration number on the side of the bottle for the standard dishwashing soap or any product that does not disinfect.
Refer to the EPA and CDC for the resources that will help you find the most current information on the COVID pandemic and how to best reduce your risk of infections. COVID is an airborne disease and is spread by droplets. It can be spread by contaminated surfaces, but the primary mode of transportation is airborne.
Infection Control Practices
The EPA has an “N list” which identifies commercial and residential/institutional products that are known for coronavirus cleaning and variants. The variants may change, but the products still work.
There are several steps that the EPA outlines for safe and effective use of disinfectants.
- Check the EPA N list to be sure that you are using the correct product for the job.
- Read the directions to ensure the product is used on the correct surface.
- Pre-clean with soap and water if the surface is visibly dirty.
- Follow the contact time, i.e., how long does the solution need to remain wet on the surface to ensure it works.
- Wear gloves and wash your hands after removing the gloves.
- Secure the product when not in use.
Disinfectants are the best products to use to decrease the risk of infections from viruses and bacteria. However, these chemicals must be used with care.
The chemicals might trigger people with asthma or other respiratory conditions. Use in a well-ventilated area with good air flow. People with respiratory illnesses can leave the home for a leisurely walk during cleaning.
Avoid mixing products, wear gloves and don’t let children use these chemicals. Follow the directions carefully. Do not mix products together as this might produce chemical reactions/fumes that can be deadly. If a small amount works, a lot does not do a better job.
The Bottom Line
In summary, armed with the knowledge on how to decrease our risk of infection beyond basic infection control, nurses can feel more confident going to work, caring for patients and returning home with less worry about infecting our families.
As trusted members of our community it is an opportunity for those of us in nursing to spread this sort of information to friends and family and help with coronavirus cleaning and infection control. Don’t be afraid to make a difference in the world.
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