Protecting Your Family During the Pandemic
Whether you work in a hospital, personal care home or community clinic, there are risks of exposure to COVID-19 for physicians. While there is extensive medical advice on protecting health care workers and patients from infection, there is less evidence about any additional steps to avoid bringing the virus home to your family.
We often hear physicians ask “how do I protect my family during the pandemic?”
We have summarized advice from a number of sources below, with some practical tips that may be helpful to your peace of mind and your family’s. Locally relevant links have been added as appropriate.
Step 1: Understand the Risks
Understand the risks of your work setting. Do you work with COVID-19 positive or suspect patients? Do you work in a green (non-suspect patients), orange (suspect patients) or red (positive patient) zones?
Next, consider if your household members have any health issues that put them at increased risk.
STEP 2: Consider Added Precautions
The following is a summary of additional measures that have been gleaned from a number of different sources. Physicians can consider adding some or all into their daily routines for added comfort.
From Home to Work
The goals are to minimize the personal items you bring to work with you, and plan ahead to minimize the items you will bring home after work. Steps to consider include:
- Screen yourself for symptoms or potential exposures
- Removing jewelry and watch and minimizing personal accessories.
- Consider wearing glasses instead of contacts to avoid touching your eyes.
- Packing lunch and coffee in disposable containers.
- Wearing personal clothing to work, and changing into work clothes/scrubs at work. The same goes for shoes.
- While some sources suggest placing your cell phone in a plastic bag, emerging advice suggests not handing personal devices or technology in the workplace, especially in orange or red zones.
While at Work
Following all infection prevention and control recommendations at work. These recommendations will vary depending on your practice setting and the risk of exposure. While at work, ensure you:
- If you work in orange or red zones, avoid bringing personal items like your cell phone to your work area and follow any guidelines in your facility about accessing personal devices. Always wash your hands before touching your personal items.
- Disinfect your phone, ID badge, stethoscope, eyewear and other personal items regularly with facility approved disinfectants.
- Physically distance from others whenever possible.
- Wear recommended PPE as directed.
- Clean your hands and disinfect your lunch space before and after eating.
- Minimize touching surfaces, including using speakerphone when possible to avoid contact with your face.
From Work to Home
Before leaving work, ensure you:
- Disinfect your phone, ID badge, glasses and any personal items using approved disinfectants.
- If possible, change out of your work clothes and into your personal clothing. Change your shoes. Place your work clothes in either a disposable plastic or washable cloth bag and place in trunk of your vehicle.
When arriving at home:
- Set up a “decontamination” area for arriving at home. This could be in your garage or at a side entrance. Stock it with hand sanitizer and wipes, a shoe tray and a place for dirty laundry.
- If you didn’t change your clothes at work, change when you arrive home.
- Launder your work clothes thoroughly. Guidelines indicate that regular laundry is sufficient to kill the virus (soap, hot water and hot dryer).
- Shower immediately with warm water and soap. Some consider designating a bathroom for post-work showers.
STEP 3: Build Your Resilience
An important way to protect your family is to focus on your own well-being, so you have capacity to support them. Take care of yourself, including monitoring for stress, burnout and depression. Focus on building resilience and finding what works for you.
- Check out our Guide to Staying Well During the Pandemic, and other physician health and wellness resources.
- Save the number for our 24/7 Physician and Family Support Program – you never know when you, a family member or a colleague may need it. Services include counseling, online educational tools and supports, referrals to other services and more.
CALL: 1 – 844-4DOCSMB (436−2762)
Company ID: DOCSMB
- After each shift, reflect on three things that went well and be proud of your work. Talk to a colleague on difficult days.
- Focus on healthy eating, exercise, and getting as much sleep as possible.
- Slow breathing can actually help regulate your stress and emotions, as can taking time to laugh and connect with others or doing something creative.
STEP 4: Support Your Family
Focus on your family’s well-being. It will be comforting to you to know your loved ones understand the virus, how to prevent its spread, and your work environment. Be open and transparent. Some physicians have reported feeling stigmatized at home by family members fearful of becoming infected.
- Educate your family on the fundamentals to help them lower the risk of infection, like wearing a mask when recommended and frequent hand hygiene.
- Check in on their mental and emotional well-being. Remember that your family also has access to the 24/7 Physician and Family Support Program.
- Monitor your family’s health. Check for symptoms or potential exposures every day, and if needed ensure they get tested.
Stay with your family if appropriate. If you are asymptomatic, do everything you can to be with your family in your household. If symptoms occur, then isolate. Physicians need support to maintain their own connections and mental health during the pandemic.
STEP 5: Prepare Now for Self-Isolation
It’s best to plan now for the potential that you or one of your family members may need to self-isolate due to symptoms, exposures or a COVID-19 diagnosis.
You should isolate if you test positive, or if you are symptomatic and waiting for test results.
When someone is isolating, they should avoid contact with other people, including those within the household. This means:
- Staying in your own room or on a separate floor from others.
- Use a separate bathroom. If not possible, it should be cleaned frequently.
- If you need to leave, use a medical mask and stay physically distanced from others
- Avoid contact with pets
- Do not have any visitors to your home.
Keeping your Family Safe from COVID-19: Hospital Workers’ Guide. UChicago Medicine, accessed November 30, 2020.
How doctors can keep their families safe after providing COVID-19 care. American Medical Association, April 8, 2020.
A Practical Decontamination Framework for COVID-19 Front-line Workers Returning Home, Drs. CA Harris, HL Evans and DA Telem, Annals of Surgery, 272(2), August 2020.
Novel Coronavirus FAQ – Staff. Alberta Health Services, November 25, 2020.
COVID-19: Minimizing exposure to home, family. Mayo Clinic Health System, April 15, 2020.
COVID-19: How to stay safe when you come home from work. Intermountain Healthcare, April 7, 2020.
Manitoba COVID-19 resources for health-care providers and staff. Shared Health Manitoba.