Psychiatrist, Writer, Commentator

Health Care Workers & COVID – What should we tell our families?

Monday, 06th April 2020

As Health Carer Workers (HCWs) we are anxious about spreading the infection to our families and the people we live with. On top of that, our friends & families are worried about us because we face an increased risk.

It is an important time to have conversations that explore the risks and share decision making.

Here are some tips to get you started.

Start the conversation.

  • Be honest, and for kids be age-appropriate (they don’t need all the information adults need)
  • Share factual information – not the exaggerated news and social media feeds
  • Balance the risks with the good information – our hospitals are well prepared, the actual COVID illness is mostly mild for kids, and even for most adults.
  • Ask for opinions, and try to achieve shared decision making

Factual information- Risk for HCWs

  • The risk for COVID-19 is increased for health care workers, but we actively reduce those risks:
    • Everyone is screened on entry
    • Strict protocols to reduce transmission & use protective equipment
    • Increased hospital cleaning protocols
    • Rigorous contact tracing for HCWs
    • Extra isolation measures – including potential alternative accommodation in hotels if the risk gets too high
    • Extra testing availability
  • The risk is also increased for people who live with HCWs but it is small and unlikely to be a significant driver of spread

There are things we can do to reduce risks at home

  • Maximise isolation within the home if you can
    • Separate rooms, separate spaces, regular cleaning of surfaces, video calls etc
    • Minimise touch – fewer hugs, fewer kisses (save them up for after COVID)
  • There is also this advice from the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Foundation for entering your home and minimising the risk of infection. Please note, this is not the Department of Health & Human Services' advice, and most hospitals do not have enough scrubs for all staff.
    • Keep a box by the door to place your shoes
    • Leave your bag, wallet, mobile, keys, etc in a box near the entry
    • Change out of your clothes immediately and wash them. Use the hottest possible machine wash setting and dryer if you can.
    • Have a shower
    • Clean items you’ve bought in and surfaces you’ve touched
    • Remember to wash your hands regularly
    • Wash your personal things like phone cases, glasses, keys, lanyard, etc (hot soapy water or disinfectant spray)
    • Consider changing in and out of your uniform/scrubs at work

And remember:  The main goal of social isolation is to slow the speed of spread (to flatten the curve) so we don’t overwhelm our hospitals. That way, when we get sick we get first-rate care. It is inevitable that some of us, whether HCWs or not, will get infected.

Apart from avoiding infection, the next best thing we can do to ensure we all recover is to ensure our health care system works and for that to work, we need to stand together – HCWs, our families, our communities

The risks are less if we stand together.