One of the essential jobs in any community is first responders. In particular, medical first responders deliver life-saving treatment to victims of fires, car accidents, or severe health problems – all while putting their own lives at risk to help their community. This is particularly true in 2020, as the COVID-19 crisis has put first responders and EMS workers at greater risk of infection than many have ever experienced before.
When ambulances transport patients with the new coronavirus, they risk spreading the virus to their next patient – or contracting the virus themselves. The highly contagious nature of this virus has taken a severe toll on EMS workers. For example, some 20% of ambulance workers in New York City have been out sick due to the virus this year.
In light of these recent dangers, the CDC has changed their First Responder Guidance, making it stricter and more focused on containing the infection. Implementing these guidelines is vital to keeping first responder medical personnel – and follow-on hospital personnel safe.
Here are a few critical tips for properly disinfecting your ambulance.
Create and Implement a Cleaning Routine
In May 2020, the scientific journal Heliyon published the results of a survey of EMS workers across the United States. The researchers had asked these individuals about their agency’s COVID-19 response, focusing on PPE use and adherence to social distancing.
Their results were troubling: 36% of respondents said they had received no training about COVID-19 at all! The survey authors suggested that this lack of training lead to a lack of cleaning protocol – in turn, contributing to the spread of the virus.
If you want to contain the spread of COVID-19 within your EMS team, creating easy-to-follow cleaning and disinfection protocols is essential. Then, make sure to implement that protocol (and make sure EVERYONE follows it). Design a routine that is easy to remember and include in your daily tasks and set up a system that holds your providers accountable for cleaning during their shift.
Thorough, routine cleanings (of both the patient compartment and the front cabin) after every call is the best way to prevent COVID-19 from spreading to both patients and EMS providers.
Wear PPE Properly
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is an essential tool in the fight against COVID-19. EMS providers must have access to N95 masks, gloves, disposable gowns, and other critical PPE to protect them should they encounter an infected patient. However, proper PPE isn’t just about having access to these tools – it is also essential to learn how to use them.
While PPE is an important part of training for emergency personnel, making sure that it is worn correctly, and disposed of is a team effort. Ensure your team members wear their PPE on all calls where a patient is infected (or suspected to be infected) with COVID-19. In fact, providers should wear their PPE ensemble during the disinfection process as well. Only after the ambulance is clean and disinfected should your providers remove and dispose of their PPE.
Clean and Disinfect Your Vehicle and Equipment
An EMS provider needs to be ready to jump into action at a moment’s notice. This means that they need to be alert, prepared to work, and have clean, disinfected tools as often as possible – including the ambulance itself. This is especially important during the pandemic, as an unclean or improperly cleaned vehicle could contribute to the spread of COVID-19.
Vehicle cleaning must be done quickly between calls. Ensure your providers know the fastest ways to clean their patient compartment, cabin, and equipment thoroughly. If possible, work with your county to set up a cleaning team (like these counties in Maryland did to speed up their cleaning process). These steps will ensure that your vehicles are ready for the next call as soon as possible.
However, thorough cleaning isn’t the only thing you need to be ready for patients. It’s also essential to use disinfectants across all exposed surfaces and choose options – such as alcohol-based disinfectants and systems – that can be used on sensitive electronic surfaces. Using water-based or non-alcohol based solutions can seep into electronics causing damage, or miscalculation. That’s when portable alcohol-based sanitation system solutions are most effective for ambulance contamination – particularly ones that neutralize viral contaminants like COVID-19.
Clean and Disinfect the Vehicle’s HVAC System
Finally, we come to the most important thing you can do to protect both patients and ambulance staff: clean your ambulance’s HVAC system. There is a wealth of evidence to suggest that COVID-19 can spread through the air, and poorly ventilated closed spaces can exacerbate the spread. This includes office buildings, stores, restaurants, and even vehicles.
When you clean and disinfect your ambulance, it is crucial to open the vehicle doors and allow for airflow exchange. It’s also critical to disinfect your HVAC system with a solution that will eliminate viral contaminants and is EPA registered for use in HVAC systems. This will prevent COVID-19 from hiding in your HVAC system, only to infect patients when the car starts running again.
Health experts believe that COVID-19 will be with us for quite some time. Businesses and individuals will need to be vigilant to protect themselves and others – and individuals working in healthcare and the first response will need to be even more so. Therefore, disinfecting protocols, PPE use, and portable surface sanitation systems are essential to providing emergency medical services safely and effectively.
Learn more about alcohol-based disinfection systems.
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