COVID-19: infection control in community settings

With the risk of COVID-19 transmission it is more important than ever to ensure that we maintain effective infection control. COVID-19 is not thought to be completely airborne but can be transmitted through droplets, direct contact people’s secretions, and touching surfaces that have been infected through human transmission.

Safe ways of working for all health and care workers
  • Staff should know what PPE they should wear for each setting – please review this chart devised by NHS England for further specific guidance
  • Staff should have access to the PPE that protects them for the appropriate setting and context
  • Gloves and aprons are subject to single use with disposal after each patient contact
  • Hand hygiene should be practiced and extended to exposed forearms after removing any element of PPE
Use of PPE

It is always vital to wear PPE when completing any care interventions in the community environment, however as we try to fight the spread of COVID-19, it is essential that PPE is worn. The level of PPE will be determined depending on the environment. For non-symptom displaying service users gloves and aprons and a fluid resistant face mask are required for any patient care. Ensure that you wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, in warm water and with soap, before and after applying PPE.

PPE should be put in the hallway or reception area of the home.

The recommended PPE required to be worn where a possible or confirmed case has been identified is: disposable gloves, disposable apron, fluid resistant surgical face mask and potentially eye protection. Where a service user is coughing and there is a risk of splashing the use of a visor should be considered and risk assessed.

Aerosol Generating Procedures
The current AGPs in the community setting are:
  • Tracheostomy procedures – insertion, removal or open suction
  • Non-invasive ventilation (BiPAP or CPAP)
  • Ventilation via a tracheostomy
  • Cough Assist
Further information on the PPE requirements can be found here.

Hand washing

Hand hygiene is essential before and after all contact with the service user being cared for, following removal of protective clothing and cleaning of equipment and the environment. Wash hands with soap and water using the technique shown in the diagram below. Washing effectively with soap and water is sufficient, if possible, use a disposable paper towel to dry hands and place in waste. Paper towels are not always available in the community setting, and therefore it is essential that a hand towel is made available for workers only and this is changed on a daily basis and washed in a washing machine under an appropriate temperature. Recommendations do continue to state that an alcohol-based hand rub can be used if hands are not visibly dirty or soiled, but hand washing is the top recommendation.

Use of clothing at work
  • Do not travel to work in the clothes that you will be wearing during your shift
  • If possible, change into your ‘work clothes’ on commencement of shift
  • Use different footwear when at work – this will prevent you potentially spreading the virus outside of the work environment
  • Prior to leaving the shift, change back into travelling clothes, place work clothes and footwear into a plastic bag
  • When home, wash your clothes immediately at 90 degrees
  • Avoid shaking your clothes out prior to putting them into the washing machine
Tips to reduce the risk when completing care
  • Leave all jewellery at home, wear clothing where your forearms and hands can be left free and easier to clean
  • Always wash your hands before and after any care intervention
  • Try if possible, to group cares together to minimise the exposure
  • Try if possible, to complete all care from the side and avoid facing your service user head on
  • Maintain a safe distance with the service user in between care interventions
Environmental decontamination
  • It is possible for the virus to survive in the environment so environmental cleaning is essential. The amount of virus contamination on surfaces is likely to decrease significantly after 72 hours
  • Always wear gloves and aprons to clean your service user’s environment
  • Place cleaning clothes (disposable) in a sealed plastic bag and do not put in the mainstream bin for 3 days. For any non-disposable clothes, wash in the washing machine after use
  • Ensure the service user’s environment dust free and clean every day
Waste management

Disposal of PPE and personal waste should be placed securely within disposable bags. When full, the disposable bag should be placed in a second bin bag and tied. These bags should be stored before being put out for collection. Other household waste can be disposed as normal.

Occupational exposure

There is a risk that you will be exposed to a service user with COVID-19. All staff should remain vigilant for any new respiratory symptoms during the incubation period, which can be up to 10 days following last exposure to a confirmed case, and should NOT work if you have a fever, cough or loss of smell or taste. If you develop a fever or cough, contact 111 or your GP for further advice and self-isolate.

Lateral flow testing

It is government guidance that all healthcare workers should complete lateral flow tests twice weekly, this is generally completed through your substantive post, however if you do not have a substantive post you can order them through the Public Health Agency by clicking on this link and following the instructions.

If you have a positive lateral flow test result you MUST NOT go to shift and have a confirmatory PCR test.

Reducing the spread of infection in your home

Just because you are not caring for service users in hospital does not mean that you will be free from the potential spread of infection. This section gives you guidance on infection prevention, not only in the service users home but also your own home so you can remain fit and well and continue to provide support.

When at home you should
  • Wash your hands with soap and water often and for at least 20 seconds
  • Use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water is not available
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hand) when you cough or sneeze
  • Put used tissues in the bin straight away and always wash your hands afterwards
  • Clean objects and surfaces you touch often (like door handles, kettles and phones) using your regular cleaning products
Cleaning and washing
  • Use your usual household products, such as detergents and bleach when you clean your home
  • Put used tissues and disposable cleaning clothes in rubbish bags, place the bag in a second bag and tie it securely – wait for 3 days before putting it in your outside bin – dispose of other household waste as normal
  • Wash your laundry in the washing machine in the usual way. Laundry has been in contact with an ill person can be washed with other people’s items. Do not shake dirty laundry as this may spread the virus in the air (However we would suggest that you wash your uniform/work clothes separately in as high temperature as possible)
  • If you do not have a washing machine – wait for 3 days after your stay at home has ended before taking your laundry to a launderette

Stay up to date with the latest NHS advice here.

Stay up to date with the latest HSE advice here.