Early Nursing Lessons Still Play Part in Healthcare’s Role During COVID-19 Pandemic

Despite the incredible medical and technological innovations of the past 100 years, some of the best ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are decidedly low-tech, according to West Coast University public health assistant professor Alexandra Auslander.

Pending wide-scale testing to see who has been infected and who is infected is available, Auslander said, the best way to crack down on the novel coronavirus is to step back.

High-tech advancements

“Until we get to rolling out COVID-19 testing, we need to maintain physical distancing, hand washing and wearing face coverings in public,” Auslander said. “As some states have already lifted the shelter-in-place restrictions, a natural experiment has been created through government policy differences.”

Even before scientists could actually see the germs or viruses causing illness, the importance of handwashing and maintaining distance was well-known to public health experts. Now armed with advanced supercomputers and high-powered electron microscopes, scientists are capable of learning and sharing more information than ever before. Less than four months after the initial COVID-19 outbreak, the compete genetic fingerprint of the SAR-CoV-2 virus had been completed and shared with scientific communities around the world.

“We have a scientific, healthcare, and technological infrastructure that is better equipped to handle something of this nature and magnitude than in the past,” Auslander said. “Speed of information can at times prove to do more harm than benefit, but overall it allowed for the swift restrictions to be shared and implemented which helped prevent further spreading.”

21st Century Florence Nightingales

Although the mother of modern nursing was born more than two centuries ago, WCU Nursing Dean Robyn Nelson believes COVID-19 just reinforces the age of Florence Nightingale. A tireless worker and one of history’s most important statisticians, Nightingale ushered in a new era of healthcare with her emphasis on handwashing, proper ventilation and data visualization — traits that would still serve her well now.

But until a vaccine is developed, Nelson said she hoped the battle against COVID-19 wouldn’t become political and that the public continued to rely on advice from medical and public health experts.

“Every day when a nurse, as student or faculty, participates in a clinical experience, there is always risk of ‘exposure’ to a source of infection. Nurses should not be selective of when and to whom we deliver care,” Nelson said. “As professionals, if needed, we are there, and we follow the appropriate protection guidelines. I hope each nursing student going forward reviews their personal commitment to the profession and to those we serve — without hesitation.”

And while working in healthcare can be scary sometimes, Nelson hoped nursing students and their faculty would continue to be inspired by the “Lady with the Lamp” and her bravery.

“Addressing COVID-19 is what healthcare professionals have been doing since 1854 when Florence Nightingale and 38 nurses went to the Scutari Barracks Hospital,” Nelson said. “While nurses have always been heroes, COVID-19 has showcased the contribution of nurses and brought long-overdue recognition to the profession. I hope the long-term consequence of COVID-19 will strengthen the understanding that — in my opinion — nurses are the glue of healthcare.”

This is the second part of a two-part article.

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