Working from Home – Not an Option

By Matt Swanson, BS, MT(ASCP), CSSBB

March 05, 2020

Facts about COVID-19

By this time, I am sure that you have had your fill of COVID-19 related articles. The illness, while relatively mild, is new and comes with a higher mortality rate than the annual varieties of influenza we experience every year. It is also highly contagious, and is of course dangerous to certain at-risk populations.

Since the initial outbreak in Wuhan province, China, cases of COVID-19 have risen to well over 100,000 worldwide – and will be higher by the time you read this post. An excellent interactive graphic of cumulative and active cases can be viewed here.

Work from Home?
StaffReady is based in Spokane, WA. The most recent recommendations in Washington State include a request that employers encourage employees to work from home for the time being. In King County alone, this would affect 2.2M people. While this is a sound request, it immediately brought to mind the hundreds of thousands of professionals working in laboratories, pharmacies, hospitals, clinics and a host of other medical locations across Washington State.

None of you can work from home. Neither can the millions of healthcare workers across the nation.

Washington is roughly average in its healthcare employment, running at approximately 10% of the workforce. The actual percent of the workforce that is likely to come into contact with patients is somewhat lower, at about 8%. The rough estimate of medical workers in Washington State with patient contact then is somewhere north of 250,000. Those workers – along with first responders, grocers, transit workers, shopkeepers, electricians, plumbers, metalworkers and many, many others – cannot carry out their work from home and their industries simply cannot shut down. If this is the case, then what remains to be done and what can the non-telecommuter do?

Healthcare Leadership
Fortunately, we in the healthcare sector are amply prepared for just such a situation as a respiratory epidemic. We face infectious hazards on a daily basis and are prepared and knowledgeable on how to run an organization while maintaining safety of our patients and workers both.

As a result, the answer of how to respond is to continue best practices we in the healthcare sector follow daily – wash our hands, use hand sanitizer and wipe things down. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and discard the tissue. Stay home when you are sick. Self-quarantine if you are diagnosed with COVID-19.

Workplace hygiene is another component of the prevention effort. Routine cleaning of work and environmental surfaces is recommended. This includes those surfaces that staff are likely to touch, such as door knobs, cabinet handles, refrigerator doors, and shared items such as desks, telephones and workstations. COVID-19 appears to be susceptible to standard cleaning and sanitizing agents, and nothing exotic is needed.

Uniquely Prepared
To those of us in the healthcare profession, we have an opportunity (and perhaps an obligation) to help quell panic regarding COVID-19. Since 2010, the US has lost between 12,000 – 61,000 people per year due to influenza. COVID-19 has thus far claimed far, far less than that in the US. This is not to minimize that loss of life, but simply to put it into perspective.

A vaccine is a year or two off and we will have to remain vigilant in our control efforts until the virus can be controlled in a more comprehensive manner. This is something that we in the healthcare field are uniquely prepared to carry out, with decades of experience in infection control and biosafety training.

References – all web references were accessed most recently on 03/05/2020. CDC recommendations may change - go to https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/ for the most up-to-date information.

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Matt Swanson, BS, MT(ASCP), CSSBB

Matt Swanson is the Technical Operations Manager at StaffReady. He came to StaffReady with 29 years of experience in the clinical laboratory, with roles varying from Bench Tech to Operations Management to Consultant to Business Intelligence Analyst.  He became a Certified Six-Sigma Black Belt in 2017. Find Matt on LinkedIn.