Fundamentals of Screening: Simple Tips for Big Impact in Stopping the Spread of COVID-19

With the vast amounts of guidance provided by local, state, and federal government, preventing and mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in our long-term care facilities can be tricky. I want to say that the extra effort you and your staff are putting in IS making a difference and saving lives. While some implementations are complicated and tough to navigate, there are simple, fundamental things we can do that have a great impact on keeping our residents and staff safe.

As you probably know, everyone that enters your facility must be screened. When we say screened, we obviously do not mean tested, as screening usually takes the form of a short questionnaire and a temperature check. Skip to page 179 of this CMS Toolkit to see what your state and local procedures are to stay in compliance.

Occasionally I have seen the facilities become a bit lax after hours or on weekends when there may not be a receptionist sitting at the front desk. It is critical that every single person entering your facility, even clinicians, go through your screening process every time, any hour of the day, any day of the week.

Let’s look at the questionnaire you are using. There may be questions asked that are not as relevant as during the earlier months of the pandemic. “Have you traveled internationally?” or “Do you live in a community with widespread COVID?” are not appropriate anymore, as unfortunately current domestic infection rates are worse than international infection rates and that puts most of us in communities with widespread COVID.

Another fundamental practice that we can easily use to prevent COVID from coming into our facilities is social distancing. Make sure that when staff are entering at the same time, say at shift change, that they are following the six-foot rule. Marking “X’s” on the ground with tape can help accomplish this.

We know that masks are mandatory and essential, but there is a type of mask that is inappropriate. The masks with exhalation valves protect the person wearing it, it does not protect your environment. We wear masks not only to protect ourselves, but our communities and those around us.

If you aren’t already doing so, another simple tip is to have a jar for clean, sanitized pens for filling out said questionnaires and a jar for used pens so that they can later be sanitized.

We must not forget the all-important infection prevention and control practice of hand hygiene! Surveyors are actually citing facilities for not instructing them to conduct hand hygiene on the spot during the questionnaire process and during the surveys. Making sure everybody that enters your facility is educated on the importance of hand hygiene throughout their stay in your building.

Again, these are simple and seemingly obvious implementations, but they are fundamental and go a very long way in keeping staff, residents, and visitors safe and healthy. I hope these tips helped your facility. Thank you to all our healthcare worker superheroes out there, be safe and be well.

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