Healthcare workers share tips for COVID prevention as people return to work

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Paul Mertzic, center, a registered nurse who works part-time at the CMC Healthcare for the Homeless Center in Manchester, is wearing PPE (personal protective equipment). Courtesy Photo

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Paul Mertzic, a registered nurse who works at the Catholic Medical Center’s Healthcare for the Homeless Clinic in Manchester, wears an N-95 mask all day. When he sees a patient who has symptoms of COVID-19, he dons extensive personal protective equipment (PPE), including a disposable gown, gloves, and a face shield, and replaces his N-95 mask with a powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR), which resembles a space helmet, to protect him from contaminated air.

Danielle Gerrior, 31, works on the COVID-19 floor at the Elliot Hospital in Manchester. The entire day she wears an N-95 mask and protective clothing – disposable gown, booties, a bouffant cap to cover her hair, and a shield to protect her eyes.  When she sees a patient who has breathing treatment or uses special breathing equipment, the mask is replaced with PAPR.

New Hampshire nurses caring for COVID-19 patients go to extraordinary lengths to protect themselves from contracting the highly infectious disease. As more people across the state return to work, they can learn from these health care workers about how best to protect themselves from exposure to coronavirus. 

Both Mertzic and Gerrior bring a set of clothes to work with them each day and change out of their clothing at the end of the day – Mertzic removes his clothing at a campsite at Lake Massabesic, Gerrior at the hospital — before going home. There, they put the worn clothes in the wash. Mertzic takes a shower before meeting up with his wife and son, who is medically compromised.

Gerrior said it is a good idea for grocery store employees to bring an extra set of clothes to work so that they can change before heading home to loved ones.

“You just never know and it never hurts to bring a change of clothes,” she said.

Mertzic said people should follow recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Avoid close contact by maintaining a social distancing of at least six feet; wash hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds; stay home if ill; avoid groups; cover coughs; wear face covering; clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces like door knobs or phones. 

For those who come into contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus, or who are caring for someone who has contracted the disease, Gerrior recommends using a mask and eye shield. This can help reduce your risk of getting the virus, although your risk remains high if you’re in close contact with someone with COVID-19.

“Even though the idea is you will probably get it anyway, but you should try to fight it off,” Gerrior says. The basics can go a long way, like washing your hands frequently, helping the sick person to wash their hands, and disinfecting regularly. 

“Try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth,” Gerrior said. “Keep up with cleaning, disinfecting as you go. You absolutely should be disinfecting things you touch, especially if you know you have come in contact with [the virus] – doorknobs, light switches, toilet handles.”

The CDC has guidelines for caring for someone with coronavirus at home with the disease. When possible, the ill person should stay in a separate area of the house, and have their own bathroom, while avoiding contact with family members and pets. They should wear a mask when possible. 

According to the CDC, people who are exposed to someone with the virus or who have contracted the disease should stay home. Most people with COVID-19 have mild illness and recover at home without medical care. If you suspect you have the virus, do not leave your home, except to get medical care, which you should call ahead for. Do not visit public areas, and avoid public transportation including ride sharing or taxis. 

You must stay home at least 10 days after you were exposed. If you get sick, stay home until 10 days after your symptoms first appeared and until at least three days have passed since you’ve recovered, which means you’ve been fever-free, without medication.

While you’re feeling sick, rest and stay hydrated. Take over-the-counter medicines, such as acetaminophen, to help you feel better. Call your physician or seek emergency care if you exhibit any concerning symptoms, like trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest; confusion; inability to wake or stay awake; or bluish lips or face.

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