COVID-19 Impact on Travel Nurses
There are a lot of questions from travel nurses and staff regarding the impact of the virus on our work lives and schedules. The CDC is rapidly changing recommendations and implementation of emergency plans. A lot of nurses feel like they are hearing something different every four hours. And, they very well may be! This is a fluid situation that is going to keep evolving. As nurses, we can keep ourselves educated and safe. This is a time for nurses to ban together in solidarity and showcase our resilient personalities and importance to the healthcare system.
I know it can be terrifying to think about going to work and taking care of a COVID patient. But, if nurses keep themselves up to date on the latest PPE recommendations (INCLUDING on how to don and doff- because this sequence has also changed a few times), then we should be able to stay safe while making a huge contribution to fighting this pandemic. Push for safety at all times! Do not cut corners or stay quiet if you seem something that seems unsafe.
Travel Nurse Coronavirus FAQ
When should I be quarantined?
When you have the symptoms listed above and have had contact with possible coronavirus patient, or if you have a recent history of air travel. If you have shortness of breath or a fever, you need to contact your nearest emergency department for testing. Which patients will be tested is still being sorted out, but there are reports of drive-thru testing sites that are going to be be able to expand the number of people being tested.
You also need to contact your manager and recruiter as soon as possible to report the possible exposure.
What is the proper PPE for rule out, presumptive positive, and confirmed cases of coronavirus?
The CDC has specific, and constantly changing guidelines for suspected patient room assignments or proper PPE. Keep yourself current on the guidelines as we learn more about the virus.
IF YOU AREN’T SURE- ASK!! Ask your charge nurse, unit manager, or an expert co-worker. If they cannot answer the question, seek out your facility infectious disease coordinator. Nurses need to be sure they are properly protected.
During this time of unpredictability nurses need to fight for their protection. We need to use resources wisely and make sure are doing our absolute best to keep ourselves and patients safe.
Will my agency pay me if I have to stay home because of coronavirus?
At this time, the answer is going to vary. You need to discuss this with your recruiter and unit manager. Ask what happens if you have to stay home from work due a coronavirus exposure. You also should inquire what happens if you are sick and told to stay home, but do not have a documented exposure.
Am I going to be mandated to overtime?
The rules for mandated overtime will vary state to state and will be impacted if the state has a union for nurses. Again, I would discuss this possibility with your recruiter, and, if as a travel nurse, you will be required to participate if it is mandated for your facility.
Now is the time to step up and help out. A lot of nurses are going to struggle with school being cancelled and having children home. Changes are going to need to made to policies and we can make thing easier by staying flexible and willing to fill holes in the schedule if necessary.
This is going to be a humanitarian effort, and there are no bigger humanitarians as nurses.
Am I going to be paid ‘hazard pay’ if I have been exposed to or have to take care of a COVID patient?
Aside from the extremely high paying travel nurse contracts, I have not heard any confirmation that travel or staff nurses are being paid more when they are caring for a possible coronavirus patient.
There are rumblings that hospitals are considering asking nurses to volunteer to be ‘dedicated COVID’ caregivers, and that hospital administrations are thinking of offering incentive pay to motivate nurses to sign up.
Travel nurses can ask their recruiters if they would be eligible for such pay, or if the agency is offering an increased overtime rate to travelers that are volunteering more of their time to help out.
Am I going to have to stay overnight at the hospital for multiple days in a row?
I have not heard of any reports of this happening, yet. If the situation escalates to the level of Italy, we may be asked to work prolonged shifts. If the hospitals become completely overwhelmed with patients, and you are continuously exposed, you may opt to stay away from home as to not infect your family and friends.
As of now, we are not there. But, the uncertainty surrounding the virus makes it hard to predict what is going to happen in the near future. Preparing for the worst allows healthcare workers to build contingency plans and alternate working conditions. If we don’t prepare, and are caught off guard, the situation will worsen and we will not have control of our environments.
Travel Nurse Contracts and COVID-19
There are some REALLY lucrative travel nurse contracts being offered if you are willing to travel to hot spots to help care for patients. These contracts will be treated as ‘crisis pay’, similar to a strike contract. Some areas are offering weekly salaries over $3500 per week and are ALSO including housing. This page has an updated map of US coronavirus cases.
Taking one of these assignments may seem frightening to some travel nurses . If you are using the right precautions and PPE with all patients that have any possibility of COVID-19, you should be able to go to work and not contract the virus. Although, I would not recommend taking these assignments if you are already immuno-compromised in any way.
As travel nurses on these assignments, we should be constantly advocating and fighting for the safety of all healthcare workers. If you see something that seems wrong, or another member of the care team not properly donning and doffing PPE, say something. If you read something from the CDC that contradicts what your facility is doing- ask! We cannot stay complacent in a situation that is continuously and rapidly evolving!
Some of these assignments will be treated like strike contracts, in that if the situation resolves they can cancel you at any time. But, you have the opportunity to rake in a huge payload until then! Contact the agency listed on the job posting for contract specific details.
States are opening up licensure rules to allow more flexibility of healthcare workers to practice across state lines. Check with the state board of nursing or your recruiter for any options you may have to help out in this time of extreme need.
While on these assignments expect to be in the center of a constantly changing situation. You may need to work in the ED as a med-surg nurse, or the ICU nurses may have to accommodate a more than normal patient ratio. This is going to be a challenging time, but as nurses we have so much power to help limit this disease and provide supportive care to COVID patients. Due to their schedule flexibility and contract timing, some travel nurses have more opportunities to help our healthcare system deal with this pandemic in the coming days.
If you are not already working in a potential hot spot, ask your recruiter about options. You may be able to take a few weeks off and extend your contract in order to respond to the coronavirus emergency.
What Nurses Can Expect Next from the Coronavirus Pandemic
It is hard to determine what comes next when we are facing an unparalleled situation. I cross my fingers every day that this insanity will end. Unfortunately we don’t know enough about the virus to predict its actions. We also are unsure of how much the virus has already spread. We need to do our best to learn from countries like South Korea (they have managed to rapidly decreased the number of their cases through mass testing and specific isolation of patients in clustered areas).
We need to look at Italy and understand how they’ve managed to stay afloat during an extremely trying time in healthcare. Seeing the effects of the influx of patients in Italy can help us prepare and avoid the same strain on the healthcare system and its workers.
I urge you to listen to this podcast featuring a doctor from Northern Italy. This doctor was seeing 70-80 patients a day coming into the hospital with interstitial pneumonia and hypoxia!! That is an unrivaled number of very sick patients to be triaging on a daily basis in a single facility.
More testing means more cases…..
There is going to be more testing. More testing means there will most likely be a rapid increase in the number of reported cases. Ideally, those without life-threatening symptoms will self quarantine. Hospitals and nurses need to be ready to respond to a large number of patients needing advanced pulmonary care. Nurses should expect to see cohorting of patients and frequent updates from the CDC.
Maybe this virus is self limiting and the spring weather will bring a halt to the chaos. But maybe, we are in the early phases of what is about to become a critical moment in the history of our healthcare system.
As nurses, we need to stay healthy. We need to protect ourselves and keep our patients safe. Staff nurses and travel nurses need to mentally prepare for the possibility of the coming days and what it will mean in our day to day jobs.
Stand together and advocate for the safety of all nurses! We cannot get through this without the keeping our healthcare workers functioning and healthy.
For best practice guidelines on infection control, standard precautions for all patient care and transmission-based precautions, visit:
- Infection Control Basics
- Healthcare Professional Preparedness Checklist For Transport and Arrival of Patients Potentially Infected with COVID-19
- Hospital Preparedness Checklist for Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19 Patients
- Interim Guidelines for Collecting, Handling, and Testing Clinical Specimens from Patients Under Investigation (PUIs) for COVID-19
- Link to Local health departments
- Link to State Health Departments
- Standard Precautions
- Transmission-Based Precautions
- Sequence for Putting on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- Three Key Factors Required for a Respirator to be Effective
- Important Steps for Using NIOSH-Approved N95 Filtering Facepiece Respirators
- Strategies for Optimizing the Supply of N95 Respirators
- Frequently Asked Questions about Respirators and their Use
- Healthcare Professionals: Frequently Asked Questions and Answers
Further Resources On COVID-19
Here are a number of resources if you would like to learn more about the ongoing COVID-19 situation.
General COVID-19 Situation:
For healthcare providers:
- CDC Information for Healthcare Professionals
- WHO COVID-19 Online Training
- American Nurses Association
- American Medical Association