Coronavirus: Those in uniform are clean and have disinfected rigorously, say healthcare workers

Healthcare workers at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, on Jan 30, 2020. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Nurses follow strict hand hygiene guidelines and use protective equipment such as gowns, masks, gloves and eye protection, said SingHealth group chief nurse Tracy Carol Ayre.

Those in high-risk areas don personal protective equipment and hospital-laundered scrubs rather than their uniforms, she added.

"With these measures, the nursing uniform is much like any other work outfit we wear to work, and not 'contaminated'," said Adjunct Associate Professor Ayre. The hospital environment and equipment are also cleaned and disinfected more frequently, according to protocol, she added.

A Dr Lim, who declined to give her full name, said she goes through a thorough disinfection routine before heading home from the public hospital where she works.

She uses alcohol wipes to clean items such as her phone, pen and name tag, and washes her hands with surgical handrub.

These are standard operating procedures she was following even before the coronavirus outbreak last month. Dr Lim now plans to shower as well before heading home after shifts.

Another doctor at a different public hospital, who also did not want to be named, added that protective gear is fitted to each person and that healthcare staff also wash their hands very frequently.

They shared their practices with The Straits Times amid recent reports on social media platforms of healthcare workers being shunned by the public for wearing their uniforms on the way home on public transport.

Various groups have since stepped forward to pen notes of appreciation for health workers, and others have chipped in to help buy them meals or coffee.

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Healthcare Services Employees' Union president K. Thanaletchimi said healthcare staff actually have a higher standard of hygiene than others: "They are caring for the patients and also have their own families, so all the more they will take precautions so their family members are not infected."

She added that those in healthcare go through rigorous training on infection control and are aware of the consequences of not taking proper care.

Ms Thanaletchimi, a former Nominated MP, noted that there are various levels of risk in a healthcare setting.

Those dealing with the infected cases or patients who show possible symptoms would don the necessary protective gear.

But in settings such as specialist clinics, where people come in for check-ups and the risk is low, nurses there would generally go home from work in their uniforms.

"People fearing that the uniforms are carrying the bug don't have to fear," said Ms Thanaletchimi.

She added that some supervisors have encouraged affected staff to change into their civilian clothes when heading home, and she is hearing of fewer incidents of them being ostracised.

Dr Raymond Ong, a general practitioner with InteMedical 24h Clinic in Ang Mo Kio, said: "Generally, I wear scrubs when I'm working, and at the end of the day, I'll change out before leaving."

He added that he always wears a mask when he sees patients and uses hand sanitiser regularly and washes with a chemical hand wash.

He said that for healthcare workers on public transport, the only way for people to come in contact with the droplets from their uniforms - if there even are any - is to "go close and sniff them".

Once droplets land on a surface, there is no way for them to spread back out into the air or infect someone unless someone were to touch the healthcare worker and then touch their own mouths.

"But it's public transport and you shouldn't be touching anyone anyway," said Dr Ong.

Assoc Prof Ayre added: "Our nurses are recognisable by their uniform, which they put on with pride to serve our patients.

"We hope that members of the public can treat them with kindness and appreciation. It will encourage and uplift them greatly."

Correction note: This article has been edited for clarity.

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