March 27, 2020

How Travel Nurses Stay Safe and Healthy During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Covid-19 pandemeic

For the last couple of months the United States had been hearing about the “new” virus creeping across the globe. First China and then Italy were seeing cases grow at an exponential rate, hospital systems were being overwhelmed, and rumors were trickling in about the grueling working conditions for healthcare workers across the globe.

On March 11th the Covid-19 outbreak was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. If you are curious what it takes for a disease outbreak to be declared a pandemic, the National Institutes of Health have a great breakdown that includes the six phase process here.

Now, less than two weeks later, the healthcare community is gearing up for its biggest test of strength in modern history. Cities and states are shutting down, hospitals are shifting staff and resources to either handle a current influx of patients or brace for the coming surge. The numbers of infected persons in the United States are continuing to grow exponentially, and those of us on the front lines are facing a lot of uncertainty.

If you are part of the travel nursing community, all of this is even more stressful because there are even more unknowns in your future. Most of us are connected to travelers in other areas and are hearing horror stories about Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) shortages. Some specialties like ICU and ER are booming, while others like OR nursing are shutting down as more procedures are being postponed indefinitely.

While there is no way to know exactly how to handle these unprecedented times, there are some ways you can prepare yourself and lessen the impact if possible. We cannot beat this pandemic without healthy, able frontline workers, so prioritizing your own health is key. Here are a few tips and ideas for travel nurses to make sure you keep yourself safe first and foremost, so you can continue to help meet the rising needs of our community in these trying times.

Ask the right questions before accepting a crisis rate.

There are hospitals out there offering extremely lucrative pay packages to help handle the massive influx of critical patients they have seen as a result of the Covid 19 outbreak. ICU and ER nurses can find jobs paying as much as $4,000 gross weekly in hot spot areas like California, Washington, and New York, and a lot of the licensing requirements have been waived in this time of crisis.

However, in these harder hit areas there is also a mass shortage of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Nurses may be asked to reuse materials or simply not be provided with adequate protective gear. While this is not considered by anyone to be acceptable, hospitals simply cannot provide what they do not have. Be sure if you are looking at some of these high dollar jobs that you ask about what gear will be available when you arrive, and make your decisions based on what you are willing to sacrifice or risk.

In addition, some state boards and facilities are putting more strict regulations on nurses refusing to take patients or utilizing PPE in situations that they (the facility or state) do not deem “appropriate”. Failing to comply with these regulations could cost you your job or even put you at risk of action against your nursing license. To be clear, I am not saying you shouldn’t take advantage of these pay packages or jump in to help your fellow healthcare workers—just know you may be walking into uncharted territory in the process.

Develop a new standard of keeping your home and family safe.

Nurse wearing scrubs

It has always been important to practice good hand hygiene and infection prevention measures when coming and going between work and home, but these measures are even more important when working to prevent community spread. Most large cities have evidence of community spread, and as healthcare workers we are some of the few people still leaving the house regularly, putting us at higher risk of catching the virus.

To keep your family safe, establish a routine that allows you to create a barrier between work and home. If you are working in a Covid designated unit, take a bag of clean scrubs and store them in your locker. Then when you get off work each day you can change out of your dirty scrubs and wear them home. When you take your dirty sets home be sure to take them straight to the washing machine and wash on hot.

If you aren’t working directly with Covid patients, you may not need to go to quite the same extremes but still change either in your garage if you have one or immediately upon entering your house. Consider keeping a bin or hamper near your front door to collect everything dirty from work without having to walk it through your home.

Another great idea is to keep a plastic bin in your car for shoes. Take a pair of sandals to wear in and out of your home. When you get to your car after work, take your shoes off and place them in the plastic bin. Then you can either wipe them down or spray them down with disinfectant spray. Don’t forget to also disinfect your car, keys, and cell phone regularly.

Also be mindful of wearing your scrubs in public. While healthcare workers are working very hard and putting themselves and even their families potentially at risk, the general public is also very scared of Covid 19. At this point I would not recommend wearing your scrubs to the store or any public place even if it is prior to your shift. While you know well enough that your scrubs are freshly laundered, a stranger at the grocery store has no idea where you have been, and with the heightened anxiety in our country it is best not to bring any unwanted attention to yourself by wearing your uniform outside of work.

Get ahold of your own disinfectant and protective equipment if you can.

N95 PPE mask

Word has spread quickly that many facilities have run out of proper PPE. Even in areas where the numbers have not dramatically increased yet, hospitals are bracing for the impact in their areas and encouraging staff to conserve gowns, gloves, and masks. In some facilities care providers are being allocated one N95 mask and asked to use it until it falls apart.

If you can, try to reach out to friends and family who may do things like woodworking, painting, or frequent yard work. Many people don’t realize this but industrial grade N95 masks have been sold at hardware stores for everyday tasks for a long time. I would recommend travel nurses taking assignments during this time to try to procure at least a couple of masks to have on hand in the event that your facility does not have the capability to provide one for you. If you have an abundance of masks, citizens are being asked to donate extra supplies to hospitals in need.

Just like everything else that ran out when people first panicked about Covid 19, hand sanitizer and household cleaners are also hard to find in stores right now. A fellow nurse told me recently in Seattle she could not even find hydrogen peroxide or alcohol to have on hand to clean her stethoscope and shoes.

Many local distilleries have actually stepped up in this time of need to make “homemade” hand sanitizer with the materials they normally use for alcoholic beverages. If you can’t find what you need in store, start calling whatever distilleries might be local to your area and ask if they have started doing this. Some of them are even donating to workers and hospitals in need of sanitizer. Either way this is a great way to support a local small business and get the supplies you need to stay healthy during this time.

Be honest with any of the services you hire out.

If you use any type of home service like a dog walker or baby sitter, I highly recommend letting them know up front that you work in healthcare and may potentially be exposed at work. Unfortunately, this may result in them resigning or refusing to work for you, which is a very tricky situation. However, it is better to go in knowing whether or not you will be able to rely on these workers for the duration of this pandemic. If you utilize family for any of these services and the family members are at high risk, consider using someone else until you can be more assured that you won’t accidentally expose them to a potentially life-threatening illness.

This also goes for landlords and roommates in private rentals. Some nurses have recently found themselves homeless as a result of people being nervous to live with or near healthcare workers treating Covid patients. Many states have laws regarding eviction or lease termination notices, but without time and resources this could create a very stressful home life for nurses who choose to fight their landlords. Once again, it may be simpler to let your landlords and roommates know ahead of time that you may encounter the virus while at work and give yourself the opportunity to find a suitable living situation rather than coming home from work to a conflict on where you will be staying.

Take a deep breath and know that the healthcare community will get through this together.

Despite a lot of the negative things floating around on social media and the news, there are a lot of positive stories if you know where to look.

Large companies like Rogue Fitness and Ford Motor Company have switched their production lines to help produce ventilators and PPE. There has been a huge push to support local businesses who have faced a sharp downturn in business as a result of mandated closures. People are getting outside with their families and taking walks or being more active together.

There are a lot of unknowns in the world right now, and a lot of stress sitting on the shoulders of our travel nursing and travel healthcare workers. There is no definite answer to what things will look like when Covid numbers start to drop or a vaccine is developed, but the best we can do as healthcare workers is to make sure to keep ourselves as safe and healthy as possible so we can continue to show up every day for the patients who need us more than ever now.

Author Alex McCoy

Alex McCoy, Travel Nurse Blogger - Fit Travel Life

Hi! My name is Alex. I am a 20-something dreamer married to my high school sweetheart. We are currently adventuring across the United States as a pediatric travel nurse and traveling physical therapist. I have a passion for food, fitness, and travel. I love off the cuff cooking and spending lots of time with friends and family. Our lives are ever changing, and I am constantly learning new ways to stay one step ahead of those changes!