The role of nurses in the COVID-19 pandemic


Published April 10, 2020

Joann Sands.

Joann Sands, clinical assistant professor in the School of Nursing, is well-acquainted with disasters and emergencies.

Declaring a “passion” for disaster and emergency response management, Sands’ expertise includes disaster preparedness and response, resiliency after a disaster, disaster epidemiology and more areas all too familiar in this COVID-19 pandemic.

“Nurses play a very important role both locally and globally. They are on the front lines caring for these patients day in and day out,” says Sands, who has been a volunteer firefighter/EMT for the past 12 years.

They are able to see what is working, as well as things that can be done differently to provide more effective and efficient care, and offer suggestions for improvement.”

Given her expertise – and also to observe the World Health Organization designation of 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and Midwife – Sands talks to UBNow about the role of nurses in disaster preparedness and response.

Given your background in disaster and emergency response education, what advice would you give everyday people dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic? Any message for health care workers??

Please stay home. I understand it can be very difficult, but if you are not an essential employee that must leave to go to work, stay home. Limit trips to the grocery store to when you absolutely need to. Now is not the time to be strolling through the aisles of Target, touching all products, shopping for new home décor, or having small talk with other customers. Get your essential items and go home. Also, keep washing your hands and avoid touching your face. Although you shouldn’t be going to visit all of your family members and friends, it is still important to keep in contact with them. Call them or video chat. Check to make sure they are doing OK and keep that connection.

For health care workers, just a message you are doing everything you can in a situation you probably never imagined yourself being in. Take a deep breath, lean on each other for support, reach out if you need someone to talk to, and find healthy ways to decompress. You are important, brave and very much appreciated for all of the hard work you are doing!

What roles do nurses play in mitigating the spread of infectious diseases? Why and how are they important in managing a health crisis such as a pandemic?

Mitigating the spread of infectious diseases is so important because one of the main things we want to try to accomplish is reducing patient deaths and slowing the spread of the disease so we are able to handle the numbers of patients when the surge hits.

Nurses are important in managing a health crisis because they are a vital link between the patient and the rest of the health care team. They are with their patients for their whole shift, and through assessment and critical thinking are able to notice subtle changes in their patients that could indicate they are decompensating or getting worse, or getting better. They are able to determine the human response to the medical problem. Nurses relay their assessment findings to providers, they are able to determine if respiratory therapy needs to be called, they are able to assess the patient’s response to medical treatments, and they educate the patients, along with providing a listening ear or a calming touch.

What have you heard from your fellow nurses working in hospitals about their workload and expectations?

The patients they are seeing are sick, very, very sick. This virus is impacting everyone. Many of the patients they are caring for are younger patients and they are just as sick, requiring ICU care and intubation.

Why is it important for health care workers, especially nurses, to have education and training in disaster preparedness and emergency response?

As nurses comprise the largest component of the health care workforce, should a disaster occur, it is inevitable that nurses will be caring for those victims and patients. It is important that they are trained and have the knowledge and skills to respond, whether they are caring for someone on the front lines of the disaster or in a hospital.

What can they do to protect themselves against risk?

One of the first things is having enough proper PPE to use while working. Health care workers are implementing other strategies to help protect themselves against risk, including changing out of their work attire before entering their homes, showering as soon as they get home, and many health care providers are also isolating themselves into a separate room of their home, away from other family members to try to protect their family members as best they can. And of course, meticulous handwashing!

What advice would you give people trying their best to live their lives and at the same time trying to stay safe?

The best thing is staying home, frequent handwashing, and keeping frequently touched surfaces clean. Everyone is trying to adjust to a new way of living, along with likely feeling overwhelmed. It is important to remember to take care of your mental health. Some ways to help cope with stress include developing a schedule, frequent breaks, staying active, getting enough sleep, staying hydrated and eating healthy, well-balanced meals. Be informed, but also limit your time in front of the news coverage. As our county executive keeps reiterating, it is important to stay physically distant, but that does not mean you need to be socially distant.