It’s the Wild West of the Coronavirus out there!

Coronavirus in Flickr Public Domain

Coronavirus (from Flickr.com in Public Domain, April 8, 2020)

It’s the Wild West of coronavirus out there, and it doesn’t seem to be letting up around here yet! In my previous blog post, immediately prior to this one, I explained that I am a counselor at a mental health facility in the Southeastern United States. Thankfully, especially in situations such as that happening right now with the coronavirus shelter-in-place orders and curfews, I have and been able to keep my part-time hours. However, the Wild West of coronavirus still puts every person at risk of getting it, particularly when people persist in not taking it seriously.

In my prior blog post, I stated that I was exposed to a colleague (who also works at another mental health hospital) who was exposed to a patient who had been hospitalized and in serious or critical condition due to the coronavirus. My exposure to this colleague occurred on March 29, 2020 when this colleague came to work, and we were in the same department office and he was using my desk in that office. I should also state that this colleague worked all day at our mutual workplace the day before that – March 28, 2020. Between those two days and his travels throughout the hospital, he exposed dozens of staff and patients to potential coronavirus. He was informed by his employer of potential exposure on March 29, and left our mutual workplace once informed.

On Monday, March 30, 2020, my colleague got tested for coronavirus, and yesterday, April 7, 2020, was informed that he tested positive for it. Thankfully and with great relief, my colleague has been asymptomatic, as per his reports. It is my understanding, however, that people who are asymptomatic can still (obviously) be carriers of coronavirus and can infect other people with it. It is also my understanding (as well as through my own observations on March 29) that my colleague who worked at our mutual workplace on the weekend of March 28-29 did not wear any protective equipment to prevent a potential spread of the coronavirus until after he stated he received a call from his employer about his potential exposure to it. Only after that call did my colleague begin wearing a surgical mask.

On March 29, I informed the charge nurse at the hospital of my colleague’s potential exposure to coronavirus, as well as my own exposure to this colleague. At that time, she informed the hospital’s nursing director about it. Yesterday, I was informed by my supervisor that staff who came into contact with this colleague do not need to be tested for coronavirus! This is per information from the Health Department, apparently! And, there was no word about informing patients at the hospital of their potential exposure to coronavirus.

So, here we are in the Wild West of the coronavirus, folks! You’re on your own. When you go to work in a healthcare facility, and if you’re a patient at a healthcare facility, you’re risking exposure to – or you’ve already been exposed to – coronavirus! You have to make your own decisions and you have to do your best to take care of yourself, as well as your own famiy. I would guess that there are those facilities such as my own workplace that are not requiring staff or patients to take extra precautions to prevent the infection or spread of coronavirus. I would estimate that there are healthcare facilities such as my own that do not require staff and/or patients to wear masks, gloves, or other personal protective equipment. Recall from my prior blog post that I purchased and have been wearing my own, and I was the first staff member at my facility that I observed to wear any PPE at all. And, to my knowledge, the department office in which I work was not cleaned or disinfected (any more than what it typically is) on the weekend that my colleague worked there, beyond what I cleaned with Lysol after he left.

That stated, I am very confident that I do not have the coronavirus, nor that I’ve passed it to my family. I do my very best to wear my own PPE at work all day, except for when I eat or drink something. When I arrive at home, I put my clothing and gloves in the laundry for washing. However, I have typically been using my N95 masks for an average of three days, which likely increases my exposure if the virus is on the outside of my masks. This is not the safest way to proceed, however I hope that it does extend the wearability of the masks that I have.

Our president is banking on social distancing to eliminate coronavirus in the United States, however so, so much more still needs to be done! Why aren’t factories churning out ventilators? Why doesn’t every person in America have masks and personal protective equipment? At least, if they don’t want to use it or wear it, it still should be made available to everyone, and in plentiful rather than limited supply. More testing for the coronavirus still needs to be done on a greater scale, and people who have coronavirus should not be prevented from being admitted to hospitals, and instead, be forced to stay in self-quarantine.

That’s all just not good enough. That’s not America. That’s not the United States that I know – doing less than the bare minimum in the hopes that our country will get through this. It’s not enough to just get through it. It’s not enough to just have faith – we need intelligent action, too. We should be putting absolutely all of our efforts into eradicating this horrific virus rather than allowing an inept federal administration to continue contributing to the deaths of so many people as a result of delays, denials, and inaction. This is a killer virus not to be taken lightly. In short, more needs to be done to stop the Wild West of the coronavirus!

American Mental Healthcare Facilities are Woefully Unprepared for Coronavirus

Protecting Against Coronavirus 3-30-20

My Coronavirus Gear

I work as a counselor at an acute mental healthcare facility in the Southeastern United States. I love what I do, but what I’ve observed during the past one month is that acute mental healthcare in the United States is woefully unprepared to tackle the coronavirus. Mental healthcare is something that we’re not hearing much of anything about during this crisis because of the focus on medical care, though protective precautions for patients and employees in the mental healthcare industry – particularly acute, long-term, and residential facilities – must be addressed and improved.

On Friday, March 6, 2020, I began wearing my own N95 masks – that I bought from eBay sellers – to work. I paid a high price for the masks, but it was worth it. I was the first employee (to my knowledge) to wear any type of mask at my place of employment, due to my own coronavirus precautions. Beginning on Friday, March 20, 2020, I also added cotton gloves to my arsenal of gear, also purchased from a vendor on eBay. Keep in mind that I’m not sick, and I’m doing whatever possible to stay that way with having to go to work.

Medical and healthcare policies toward protecting patients and staff from potential coronavirus exposure and infection need improvement in American mental health facilities. Only last week did my facility begin requiring employees to get temperature checks before entering any units. Each person is on their honor to now do their own temperature check and log the correct temperature. No medically-qualified staff are present when this occurs, nor to confirm the results. It may also be a good idea to have staff check their temperatures prior to leaving work, as well, though that has not yet been required.

Patients coming into my facility from other hospitals are generally already wearing masks that they’ve gotten from the previous facility. Only last week did my hospital begin supplying surgical masks to those patients and staff who ask for them. My understanding is that there is a low supply. More and more staff during the course of the past one month are wearing masks, including a few wearing N95 masks, and the majority wearing surgical masks. I would estimate, however, that not even one-quarter of the staff who work at my hospital during the day are wearing masks.

Yesterday, I wore an N95 mask for 14 hours. I wore it for 8.5 hours at work, and also for the rest of the day, including at home. I would ordinarily only wear the mask while at work, but yesterday, I was exposed to a staff member who was exposed to a patient at his other hospital who is in serious, if not critical, condition due to the coronavirus. I did inform two supervisors about it, and I wiped my department office down with Lysol since this colleague was also using my desk. Today, my work colleague got tested. When I checked-in with him, he stated to me that he has to wait 5-7 days for results and stay quarantined for 14 days. There was also a patient on the unit I was assigned to who was sent out to a medical hospital, yesterday, due to potential coronavirus symptoms. So, while I wasn’t exposed to that patient, I was exposed to staff who were exposed to that patient. Thankfully, I wear my mask and gloves at work for everything except eating and drinking, so I hope I’m safe from being infected.

Today, I’ve already worn the same N95 mask for 12 hours that I wore yesterday. I’m taking precautions to protect my family in case I have the coronavirus. I also washed in the laundry today three pairs of cotton gloves that I’ve been wearing – while also continuing to wear another pair. I figure that if I have coronavirus symptoms, they’ll start to appear within about three days, from what I’ve read. By Wednesday evening, I should know one way or the other.

Of course, I’m also doing social distancing, both at work and at home, while also wearing my mask and gloves. I’m also doing my laundry after work, as well as running the dishwasher to keep dishes clean. In the shower, I’m using latex gloves and I’m not keeping my soap in the soap dish, so no one else uses it. I’m also wearing latex gloves while cooking for my family. Hopefully, all of this will help prevent this ravaging virus from infecting me and my family!

I’ve been saying for weeks at work that everyone – including patients and staff – needs to wear masks. At my facility, that has not been encouraged to say the least, though I hope it will be in the near future for everyone’s protection. Everyone in facilities throughout the United States needs to wear masks, and if they’re not already wearing gloves, to wash their hands often and sanitize their areas as much as possible. We don’t know everything there is to know about this virus, though what we do know is scary and tragic. Too many people have already been lost to this horrible pandemic. People in the United States – and around the world – need to take coronavirus much more seriously, including mental healthcare professionals – for our own welfare as well as that of everyone we treat!