With coronavirus spreading through Asia and 15+ CDC-confirmed cases in the United States, health facilities in the U.S. are prepping for the possibility that a Coronavirus-infected patient will enter their doors. In the meantime, the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization named the coronavirus outbreak a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern,” an official WHO classification. And the United States has been quarantining people reentering the country after living or traveling in the Hubei Province in China to ensure they are healthy and disease-free.
Anytime a disease gains international attention on this scale (recent past examples include swine flu and ebola), governments and healthcare workers have one thing on their minds: preventing a pandemic. However, government and healthcare efforts can’t prevent the spread of disease unless proper sanitation protocols are followed.
Enter the SPD. Sterile processing departments have a critical role to play—not just as the globe combats coronavirus, but anytime a potential pandemic enters the scene. Here a few key steps SPDs can take to stop the next pandemic:
It’s been confirmed that coronavirus can spread from person to person when the infected person is within about six feet of the uninfected person. It’s likely that respiratory droplets emitted by the infected person when they cough or sneeze can infect those around them if inhaled or ingested through the mouth or nose. Because of this, it’s crucial that healthcare workers armor up with personal protective equipment (PPE)—scrubs, gloves, masks, hair nets—and are properly trained in how to remove PPE after interacting with an infected patient.
Keep Surfaces and Objects Clean
It’s also possible that coronavirus can be spread through physical surfaces or objects that have been touched by an infected patient. This makes the role of the SPD that much more important—everything needs to be thoroughly sanitized and disinfected—but it also means that stationary objects like countertops in patient rooms need to be meticulously cleaned.
Inform the Rest of the Facility
This goes for every potential pandemic, i.e., highly contagious disease. If an infected patient has been admitted, the entire facility should be in the know. Everyone, from surgical personnel and SPD staff to ER nurses and receptionists, should be informed and prepared.
Eliminate as Many Risks as Possible
In the case of coronavirus (or Covid-19), this would start by isolating potentially infected patients. “Once the person is suspected of having Covid-19, that patient would be given an N95 respirator and placed in an isolation room,” says Healthcare Purchasing News. The person should then be evaluated to see whether or not they actually have the disease. This way, you limit the risk of infecting other patients and personnel during the time between admission and actual diagnosis.
Make Sure Your Policies Adhere to Official Standards
Now is not the time to fall behind in compliance with national and international reprocessing standards. Evaluate your policies and procedures and ensure that they match the most current reprocessing standards. If it’s well-known that steam sterilization doesn’t cut it for reprocessing a particular instrument, don’t be the one who treats steam sterilization like the one-size-fits-all for reprocessing.
Don’t Do Anything Halfway
If you’re serious about helping the globe defeat disease, prove it. Fear doesn’t motivate everyone, but that’s no excuse for being lazy or lackadaisical. The fate of your department, your hospital, and yes, the world is in your thickly gloved hands. So do what you do best: sterile process like there’s no tomorrow—because if you don’t, there might not be.
 See https://www.tso3.com/sterizone#resources
 See https://www.tso3.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/MK-0066_01_New-Standard-of-Care-for-Duo-Reprocess-Terminal-Sterilization….pdfCenters for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/infectioncontrol/
 See guidelines/disinfection/sterilization/other-methods.html#anchor_1554397475
 American Lung Association. https://www.lung.org/our-initiatives/healthy-air/outdoor/air-pollution/ozone.html#atrisk
 Evan Goulet, PhD, April 2015, Medical Device and Diagnostic Industry. See https://www.mddionline.com/why-manufacturers-should-consider-nitrogen-dioxide-sterilization
 PLoS One. 2015 Jun 22. See https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4476675/
 New Jersey Department of Health. See https://nj.gov/health/eoh/rtkweb/documents/fs/1376.pdf