Every year, the United States prepares for the “common flu”. This year’s strain, whose first cases were seen in Maryland in the fall of 2019, has infected more than 45 million Americans since October, killing more than 46,000 according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control. On the other hand, as of mid-March, another strain of the flu virus— COVID-19— has only caused an estimated 235,000 cases of coronavirus (as of publication), to which nearly 10,000 deaths have been attributed.
Both common flu and coronavirus are respiratory illnesses. Both are highly contagious and cause similar symptoms. Both can be deadly. So why the global frenzy over coronavirus when the common flu has been around for hundreds of years?
A lot of the fear surrounding coronavirus can be linked to how much about the disease we still don’t know. While we wait for some of the world’s preeminent research scientists and infectious disease specialists to weigh in, it’s important to understand that if you are a healthcare worker or deal in some way with medical waste, you need to know as much as we do about what’s happening with coronavirus.
Here’s what agencies like OSHA and NWRA (National Waste and Recycling Association) are recommending to reduce risk of exposure.
How is the Coronavirus spread?
The coronavirus is spread through human-to-human contact. Just like the common flu, coughs, colds, and other viruses, the coronavirus spreads when a person who is sick sneezes, talks, or coughs within six feet of another person, who then breathes in or otherwise transfers those “large droplets” containing the infectious pathogens transferred into their mouth, eyes, and nose. Coronavirus is also transmitted indirectly when an infected person expels droplets into their hand and touches a surface, leaving the virus behind for others to touch and contract. Whether it is also transferred through “airborne transmission” is still being studied, but scientists believe that this method of infection is likely as many other strains of flu viruses are transmitted this way.
Healthcare Workers Are at Risk
The Centers for Disease Control (CD) recommends the following to healthcare workers who are caring for patients with confirmed or suspected coronavirus:
● Always place a facemask on the patient.
● Isolate the patient in an Airborne Infection Isolation Room (AIIR) if available.
● Follow industry standard, contact, and airborne precautions when treating patients with confirmed or suspected coronavirus.
● Clean hands thoroughly with alcohol-based hand rub before and after all patient contact, contact with potentially infectious material, and before putting on and after removing personal protective equipment, including gloves.
● Use soap and water if hands are visibly soiled.
Guidelines for Medical Waste Generators and Personnel
Now more than ever workers and employees should follow OSHA’s guidelines when storing, managing, and disposing of waste. Manage waste contaminated with the coronavirus as you would other regulated medical waste. OSHA encourages workers to use appropriate safe work practices and wear personal protective equipment, including puncture-resistant gloves and face and eye protection, to prevent exposure to any time of medical waste that may cause injuries or exposure to infectious materials.
To reduce risk of exposure or contamination, we are asking our clients to take the following precautions:
● Secure, close, and tie red bags with an overhand balloon knot to ensure they cannot leak before they are moved.
● Place all red bags in a container with a secure lid.
● Fully close all sharps containers, place in a bag, and put in a container.
● Use single-use, disposable sharps containers that comply with DOT requirements for regulated medical waste whenever possible.
● Alert us when you are disposing of waste that may contain coronavirus
At Clym Waste Management and Environmental Experts, our number one priority is the health and safety of your personnel, and the compliance of our services. Need help managing this unprecedented public health situation? We are only a phone call away.