Keeping Safe as an Interpreter During the COVID-19 Pandemic
As people who work in hospitals and other settings where close contact is necessary, interpreters are particularly at risk for being infected with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. As an essential job, most interpreters are not able to stay home and physically distance according to the guidelines set out by the Centers for Disease Control and thus must take extra precautions to limit the spread of the disease.
What is COVID-19?
Covid-19 is the disease caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. COVID-19 spreads from person to person through respiratory droplets released into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. People within 6 feet (2 meters) of an infected person may inhale these droplets and catch the disease.[i] About 80% of people infected have mild symptoms including fever, dry cough, and chest tightness with the remaining 20% needing hospitalization to treat more serious symptoms such as respiratory and organ failure. There is currently no vaccine for COVID-19.
How to Stop the Spread of COVID-19 While Working in Hospitals
As we mentioned, medical interpreters are essential workers that come in close contact with many people throughout the day when working in a hospital. Interpreters can prevent their own infection and stop transmission by adhering to the mindset that all people as possible carriers of the disease and that all surfaces are potentially contaminated. By thinking this way, you are able to change your behavior more effectively.
But what are some actions that medical interpreters can take to limit the spread of COVID-19 in hospitals? One of the easiest ways to stop COVID-19 is not shaking hands but rather greeting people verbally (or signing to them) and then taking your seat as far away from the parties in communication as possible without being detrimental to the interpretation process. After your interpreting appointment is done, you should wash your hands thoroughly with soap for 20 or more seconds or use a hand sanitizer gel with at least 60% alcohol.
Here are some additional actions interpreters can take in hospitals to manage their exposure to the illness and prevent COVID-19 from spreading:
- Wash or sanitize your hands in between each human interaction, when moving between rooms, or after touching common surfaces. After physical distancing, washing your hands is the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
- Don’t touch any common-use furniture or surfaces. When checking in, do not touch the reception desk, don’t touch waiting room tables or chairs, do not touch anything in the exam room.
- Don’t touch your face with unwashed hands. Touching your nose, eyes, and mouth with unwashed hands is the easiest way to spread COVID-19.
- Bring tissues with you to your appointment so that you are able to cover coughs, sneezes, or touch your face without worrying about transmitting COVID-19.
- Do not bring drinks or food with you to appointments. These containers carry the germs of wherever they are put down and are more likely to be touched by you when you are not wearing gloves or haven’t cleaned your hands.
- Do not wear a mask to your appointment except if you are 1) in a potentially vulnerable group (see this article for who is included in this: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/index.html) or 2) the patient care team is wearing a mask. Remember that because they obscure your face, masks make it harder for patients to understand you so you may need to annunciate more and speak more slowly.
- Don’t treat patients as if they are dangerous. In these scary times, having compassion for a patient can help them feel respected and more hopeful.[ii]
How to protect the people you live with from COVID-19
Not only do interpreters need to think about stopping transmission and infection in hospitals, but they also need to make sure that they are protecting their families or the people they live with when they return home from an appointment.
Here are some tips for how to keep your family safe if you are a medical interpreter during the COVID-19 outbreak:
- Wear clothing that can be put directly in the wash once you return home. Coats, shoes, pants, and shirts are all exposed to germs within the hospital during a regular day, let alone when COVID-19 is present. Once arriving home, change into a completely new outfit and immediately place clothes in the washer at high heat to kill any bacteria.
- If you are going between hospitals for appointments, bring a new set of clothes for each appointment and change in between. Keep all potentially exposed clothes in sealed plastic bags.
- When leaving the hospital and returning home, spray your shoes with a disinfectant spray, such as Lysol, to make sure you are not tracking in germs in the house.
- Wipe down any devices, such as phones and tablets, and objects used in the hospital, such as your bag, pen and notebook, with a disinfectant when you arrive home.
- Wash your hands for 20 seconds or more immediately after returning home.
- Disinfect all surfaces you touched when returning such as doorknobs, locks, and railings.
We’re All in This Together
The COVID-19 outbreak has been difficult for everyone across the globe. Not only are people cut off from each other, but they fear catching a new virus we still have a lot to learn about. At Acutrans, we are here to help keep patients connected with their healthcare teams through our amazing interpreters. Our on-site, over-the-phone, and video remote interpreting services can be tailored to any health protocol and patient care setting. Our staff is working with hospitals around the country to help patients with and without COVID-19 to get the help they need. Contact Acutrans at our website, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or over the phone at 708-430-6995 to schedule language solutions today.
“How to Protect Yourself”, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html
“People Who Need to Take Extra Precautions”, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/index.html
“Prevent Getting Sick”, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/index.html
“Taking Care During Coronavirus (COVID19) Time”, https://store.masterword.com/coronavirus-covid19/