Breakrooms Causing Spread of COVID-19 in the Hospital Setting
COVID-19 has quite frankly changed the world as we know it, at least for now. From masks becoming the new normal, to quarantine, it seems we have seen it all this year. The essential workers including us nurses have experienced the true effects first hand. There have been many shortcomings in protecting our nurses, but one of those is the breakroom.
According to a study done in August published in Am J Infect Control, consuming food within 3 feet of other healthcare personnel and spending longer than fifteen minutes in the breakroom with others among other things were statistically significant risk factors for healthcare personnel contracting COVID-19.
Now, this seems like something insignificant. You could chalk up this finding to healthcare personnel being exposed by patients and that they might get it or have it anyways; however, if we break it down, breakrooms are a concern.
Floor nurses are gowned up in full PPE for a twelve-hour shift or more. Picture this– The masks are tight, they can’t breathe, they haven’t drank any water, and they haven’t sat down in hours. Their charge nurse finally relieves them for a short, thirty-minute break. They don’t have much time so they can’t go out to their car or walk all the way outside.
So what do they do? They sit in the breakroom. Well, that breakroom is shared among the entire unit, and sometimes others. Obviously, they can’t eat with their mask on, so they are now without any protection in a breakroom where they are either with others or are touching surfaces that others who are all just as contaminated as they are as they eat. Of course, these breakrooms aren’t very big, so even if there are only a few people in there, they are likely within six feet of someone.
The problem is that our guard is let down in the breakroom. There is this sort of feeling like once you are off the floor away from patients and in this non-patient care area, that you are suddenly safe.
Unfortunately, as we have learned, that is far from true with this virus.
However, what it would take to solve this problem is a massive undertaking. First off, we would have to have outdoor space or a large enough space for nurses to be able to spread out on break. There are problems with both of those options.
For outdoor space, in part of the country, it is far too cold or even snowing to be able to eat outside. Additionally, nightshift workers don’t want to sit outside as in many areas, it is unsafe.
Furthermore, to have a large space inside right now is a tough pull because, with rising COVID-19 numbers, every large space in the hospitals have been turned into units.
So you could say well, just go to your car right? Well, there are a few problems with that as well. For one, going to your car while contaminated could expose your family. Additionally, it can be unsafe. Or sometimes, the staff parking is far away and there is simply not enough time. You would have to be able to give nurses a longer lunch and with staffing ratios already out of control, nurses are already barely able to have lunch as it is.
The only possible option is to limit 1 person to a breakroom at a time and disinfect between users. And even this one, you could argue that there are some logistical battles.
So, yes, breakrooms are likely contributing to COVID-19 spread among healthcare workers, but like many other things during this pandemic, there just isn’t enough resources.
What do your staff breakrooms look like? Has your hospital implemented any good changes? Let’s talk about this.