February 2020

The novel coronavirus outbreak: FAQs for nurses

We understand the impact of the novel coronavirus (also known as 2019-nCoV) outbreak on all nurses. Every day in all practice settings, nurses are on the frontlines of patient safety. To help you find the information you need to provide safe patient care, we’ve created a resource page for nurses that contains coronavirus-related FAQs, info about your accountabilities, and current infection prevention and control guidelines.

On Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus to be a public health emergency of international concern. We are engaging with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to mitigate the spread of the virus and to protect the health and safety of patients and nurses.

We will continue to closely monitor the situation. As more information becomes available, we will update our Novel Coronavirus webpage. You can also follow us on social media to stay up to date.

What are my accountabilities when providing care to a patient diagnosed with (or suspected of having) the coronavirus?

You are accountable for making decisions that are in the best interests of your patients and for protecting them from harm. You are also accountable for protecting patients from infection risks. You can do this by:

  • applying hand hygiene principles

  • choosing appropriate measures to prevent and control infection transmission such as wearing personal protective equipment (PPE)

  • understanding your workplace’s organizational policies about infection prevention and control

  • working with your employer to develop new policies as needed

  • using sources of evidence to inform your practice

We encourage you to work collaboratively with your employer to recognize real or potential threats, review relevant organizational policies, and if needed, develop policies and guidelines specific to your practice setting.

By understanding and applying precautionary measures, nurses play a key role in minimizing the risk of infecting themselves, colleagues, patients and others. To learn more about these topics, refer to Public Health Ontario’s novel coronavirus info page.

Can I refuse to work with an infected patient?

Choosing to refuse an assignment or discontinue care is a challenging ethical dilemma without one clear answer. However, it is possible to demonstrate leadership and find the best possible solution that meets both the interests of the patient and your personal needs.

Ultimately, you do have the right to refuse assignments that you believe will subject you or your patients to an unacceptable level of risk. But you also have a professional accountability to advocate for practice settings that minimize risk to both you and your patients. Advocating for quality practice settings is one of the many ways nurses are leaders in patient care.

CNO’s Refusing Assignments and Discontinuing Nursing Services practice guideline contains information about resolving this type of dilemma and also how to prevent such a situation from occurring in the first place.

CNO’s role

CNO’s mandate is to protect the public—but patient safety is a responsibility we all share. Our role during the novel coronavirus outbreak is to support your ability to provide safe and competent care and help you understand your accountabilities.

If you have questions about your accountabilities when caring for patients affected with the new coronavirus, please contact us. One of our Advanced Practice Consultants can help identify the appropriate practice standards and guidelines to guide your decision-making and help you understand your accountabilities.

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