Coronavirus: Clear up misperceptions and protect patients, yourselves

By | 2020-11-17T17:40:28-05:00 February 21st, 2020|16 Comments

Infection control experts admit that there’s miscommunication about how nurses can protect themselves and others from transmission of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).

So we asked two such experts to set the record straight.

Nancymarie Phillips, PhD, RN, is professor emeritus of Lakeland Community College in Kirtland, Ohio, and the author of “Berry and Kohn’s Operating Room Technique,” which is in its 14th edition, and’s continuing education course “Keep It Clean: Hand Hygiene and Skin Antisepsis.”

Luci Perri, MSN, MPH, CIC, FAPIC, owns the consulting company Infection Control Results and authored the CE course “Emerging Infectious Diseases.”

About the coronavirus

The CDC has identified seven types of coronavirus that affect humans. “Most of them have had some type of animal origin,” Phillips said.

MERS-CoV, the beta coronavirus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), came from camels. SARS-CoV, the beta coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), came from a type of cat. The 2019-nCoV, a virus that originated in Wuhan, China, has been traced to animals such as bats, according to Phillips.

coronavirus - Nancymarie Phillips, PhD, RN

Nancymarie Phillips, RN

“Coronavirus, as a broad category, is responsible for things like the common cold, laryngitis and pneumonia,” she said.

Viruses are obligate parasites. They can’t replicate by themselves, according to Phillips. “The coronavirus, by itself, is an RNA-based virus, and it has to have a host to finish its complement of DNA,” she said. “That’s how it can replicate.”

Handwashing is No. 1, but that’s not all

Handwashing with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds is the most important form of protection against the coronavirus. The soap doesn’t even have to be antibacterial, according to Phillips.

“Viruses are not bacteria,” she said. “They’re different critters. All of these things are physical entities. And removing them has to be mechanical and chemical.”

Handwashing mechanically rinses off the virus.

“The soap decreases the surface tension of the skin, and the physical entity of the contamination is removed,” Phillips explained. “Once you have removed (these viruses) from the place they want to be, you’ve changed their living conditions by exposing them to the soap. They don’t like soap. It ruins their cell membrane and kills them.”

Coughing or sneezing into your elbow?

Many people think they are less likely to spread coronavirus and other respiratory illnesses by coughing or sneezing into their elbows. Not true, according to Phillips.

“When somebody coughs or sneezes, it should be into a tissue,” she said. “I take exception with people who have been sneezing into their elbows. You’re impregnating [the virus] into your clothing. What’s the first thing we do when we pick up our kids? We cradle them in our arms. How often do you wash your coat or sweater?”

Even the right gloves are not 100% safe

The recommendation, according to Phillips, is not to wear sterile gloves. Rather, wear exam gloves for virus protection. They’re not sterile, but they are protective, she said.

“Gloves are never 100% impervious,” Phillips said. “I might be able to fill them up with water and they’re not going to leak, but water molecules are bigger than viral particles. Anytime you use exam gloves, upon removing them, wash hands again.”

Always wash your hands with soap and water before putting gloves on and right after taking them off. Hand sanitizers fall short of killing viruses, so it’s better to use soap and water, according to Phillips.

Watch our Coronavirus-Patient education video here:

Getting the most from masks

Media coverage of the 2019-nCoV shows a lot of people wearing masks. Many are wearing them incorrectly, according to Phillips, who says typical surgical masks or any variety of rectangular mask are not adequate to filter a virus.

Viruses are tiny compared to other things nurses wear masks to protect against, such as splashes.

“Once the masks get wet, either from the inside from your breath or the outside from contamination, they are ineffective and have to be discarded immediately,” Phillips said.

Most of the recommended N95 respirators filter very small particles. But the coronavirus is smaller than the typical virus and even those masks are limited in their ability to protect wearers, according to Phillips.

To get the most out of the N95 respirator, nurses and others should wear them snug against the nose, cheeks and chin. The masks must be fitted, Phillips said.

PPE best practices

Healthcare providers, according to Perri, are notorious for not removing personal protective equipment correctly.

coronavirus - Luci Perri, RN

Luci Perri, MSN

“I would caution everybody that prior to putting on PPE, make sure your hands are clean, so you’re not contaminating yourself as you’re putting on your PPE,” Perri said. “When you go to take it off, make sure you take it off in the right order.

“We go from dirtiest to cleanest,” she continued. “So, your gloves would come off first, then your gown, then your eye protection if you’re wearing goggles, and then your mask. Wash your hands as soon as you get your PPE off. If you take off your gloves and you feel like your hands could be contaminated, before you take anything else off, clean your hands and then remove the rest of your PPE. Then, clean your hands again.”

Not protecting the eyes leaves you vulnerable. Eyewear is important because the eyes have mucus membranes, which have a blood supply.

If a contagious component gets into the eye from a cough, for example, it can enter the blood supply and infect the person.

Take precautions in every setting

Because of the heightened flu season and threat of coronavirus, inpatient facilities should have systems in place to protect patients and staff, according to Perri. This includes screening visitors to make sure no one is bringing any illness in, she said.

Novel coronavirus symptoms are similar to many other respiratory illnesses.

“There are always circumstances where visitors must get in to see the patient, if the patient is in intensive care or is dying,” Perri said. “In that case, you want to make sure they’re masked if they have upper respiratory symptoms.”

Nurses who suspect someone could have the novel coronavirus should mask the patient and keep those masks on as the patient enters airborne isolation, which is a negative pressure room.

“The mask should stay on the patient until they’re in negative pressure and the room is functioning properly,” Perri said.

In ambulatory settings, it’s important to display signage about respiratory etiquette. Front desk staff should be comfortable talking to patients, asking them to wear a mask and explaining respiratory etiquette, Perri said.

Emergency department and ambulatory settings should have a triage set up, so patients with coronavirus symptoms are separated from others or taken to a treatment room right away, according to Perri. Regardless of the setting type, nurses should educate patients, visitors and fellow healthcare workers about not touching their eyes, nose or mouth.

“If they must touch those areas, they should clean their hands first,” Perri said.

Finally, if a nurse thinks he or she could have been exposed to the novel coronavirus, that nurse should report the potential exposure to a manager and the occupational health or employee health department, Perri said.

Coronavirus resources

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides many good resources on the coronavirus and protecting yourself and patients, including:


COVID-19 coronavirus

Take these courses to learn more about infectious diseases and prevention:

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)
(1 contact hr)
Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) is a lethal pulmonary disease caused by a newly emerged coronavirus. It is believed to have originated in bats before it was transmitted to camels. Since human contact with bats is limited, evidence (serological and molecular) suggests that camels are the likely animal reservoir for MERS and the primary zoonotic source for human infection. MERS coronavirus (MERS-CoV) was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. As of October 2018, there have been 2,266 lab confirmed cases of MERS with 804 deaths. The virus has been found in 27 countries.

Emerging Infectious Diseases
(1 contact hr)
Emerging infectious diseases have become a global phenomenon. There are many causal factors for the presence of these diseases, including evolution and adaptation as viruses learn to evolve and recombine, and increased international travel and exportation. As these factors combine, a dangerous situation emerges. This activity will address West Nile virus, Ebola virus, and Zika virus.

Keep It Clean: Hand Hygiene and Skin Antisepsis
(1 contact hr)
Whether at the surgical site or on the hands of the healthcare provider, skin is laden inherently with resident and transient flora. Inadequate hand hygiene allows opportunistic pathogens in varying life stages to transfer between patients and other surfaces during everyday activities. Yet many healthcare workers across various disciplines continue to have poor hand hygiene despite best-practice evidence about microbial transfer between people. Proper preoperative patient skin antisepsis and hand hygiene can minimize surgical site infections, and healthcare professionals across disciplines should collaborate to enhance adherence.

About the Author:

Lisette Hilton, president of Words Come Alive, has been a freelance health reporter for more than 25 years and loves her job.


  1. Maureen Anstett February 24, 2020 at 4:48 pm - Reply

    How do you get credit for reading these articles? Is there a test?

    • Sallie Jimenez February 25, 2020 at 11:01 am - Reply

      Hello Maureen,

      We do not offer credit for reading our blog articles, but you can visit to find continuing education modules that offer credit and may help you meet state requirements or your personal education goals.

      Thank you for your question.

  2. Laureen Bunting February 29, 2020 at 1:52 pm - Reply

    I am a semi retired nurse due to a tragedy in my own life and am considering going to China or another country badly effected to help with this virus. Who can I contact?

  3. Laura Li March 4, 2020 at 12:38 am - Reply

    I’m a ICU nurse, we haven’t received any covid 19 patients yet, but I severely concerned the PPE guidelines issued by WHO, CDC in US, UK and Australia have multiple loopholes for cross transmission, such as taking off all your protective equipment except n95 mask inside of isolation room, which equals to anyone can just go inside of the isolation room with a mask only as long as you don’t touch patient. That’s a risk as patient can have a fit of strong coughing any time when you are basically bare inside the room.

  4. divya March 11, 2020 at 8:03 am - Reply

    The worldwide medical and scientific community is still to come up with a vaccine that can prevent the virus from infecting healthy individuals.As vaccines are yet to be developed, the following preventive measures should be taken by you and your family on an everyday basis to minimize the threat of infection.
    Wash your hands thoroughly with soap frequently.
    Ensure that your hands are clean before putting them near/into your mouth.
    Cover your sneeze or cough. Use a tissue and dispose of it once you are done.
    Identify objects in your home that are frequently touched by you and family members and use disinfectants to clean them regularly.
    Cowurine or Gomutra is also helpful for taking prevention from coronavirus.

  5. Ron March 11, 2020 at 8:57 pm - Reply

    I am concerned about my wife getting COVID-19 because she is a nurse for a family medicine doctor. I was asking her if there are any protocols for treating patients with respiratory issues and she said there aren’t any. She said her doctor makes the call and she isn’t concerned because she trusts her doctor. Her company does have screening questions asking about travel but I don’t think that is enough with the community spread.

  6. Afazal March 12, 2020 at 3:21 am - Reply

    we must wear a mask and full covered eyeglasses for safety. Stay safe thank you.

  7. Marc Kaufman March 12, 2020 at 4:10 pm - Reply

    With a fatality rate that appears to be about 6.6% in Italy as of 3/12/20, does anyone know if IPPB treatments are being used in Italy or if it would be effective in helping to maintain airways at an earlier stage or may be better to say at the onset of Pneumonia? Thanks

  8. sunnjeep March 13, 2020 at 10:02 pm - Reply

    I am very concerned also because it looks like we should be using airborne precautions but because of shortage of equipment it seems we’ll be using droplet precautions because the CDC recommends strategies with shortages. That doesn’t seem right. I wish they would come up with something that could be sterilized and reused. Plus we do not have that many negative pressure rooms available.

  9. Jerry Melsky March 15, 2020 at 5:29 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the informative article. I have one nitpick. Viruses are definitely not bigger than water molecules. The smallest viruses measure about 20 nanometers across. Water molecules are only about 0.3 nanometers across. (A nanometer is one billionth of a meter or one millionth of a millimeter)

    I’m sure you’re correct in saying that gloves are not a 100% effective barrier to viruses even though the gloves appear watertight. This is not because viruses are smaller than water molecules. The reason is that the surface tension of water can keep the water from leaking through very tiny holes under certain conditions. If a glove is filled with water and there is only air surrounding the glove, surface tension would keep water from leaking through a 1000 nanometer diameter pinhole in the glove. With no surface tension both water molecules and viruses are small enough to easily pass through the hole. This ability of surface tension to keep water from leaking through small holes goes away if there is water on both the outside and the inside of the glove as can easily come about from a perspiring hand in the glove.

  10. Dr M SIKANDER JANGDA DENTAL CLINIC March 17, 2020 at 7:40 am - Reply

    These precautions are necessary. Thank you for sharing as there are so many things are circulating at the moment in social and print media.

  11. Evelyn Reed March 26, 2020 at 7:50 am - Reply

    Hey Lisette, thanks for sharing this information. Unfortunately, while the world goes into lockdowns, there are so many professions that cannot function in a remote setting. For hospital staff, isolation is not an option and nurses have the highest exposure in an epidemic. The best ways to protect yourself is to have all the information to know what precautions to take.

  12. Thomas Sullivan, NP April 26, 2020 at 2:16 pm - Reply

    Water molecules (0.275 nm) are smaller than SARS-2 viral particles (avg 120 nm)

  13. javier May 25, 2020 at 6:27 pm - Reply

    When you wash your hands perfectly and they are clean, all viruses destroyed, OK; but after 1 minute you touch a surface contaminated with Covid 19, and you get infected. Is there some product that provides a kind of film that protects people from being infected that way? (lets say like a film of polymer or something like vaseline but much more resistant than vaseline, impervious to viruses?

  14. ruhi malik June 30, 2021 at 2:29 pm - Reply

    People are taking it lightly still in India when there is a warning of Third wave people roaming without mask. They should protect their nose and eyes.

  15. Dr. Ajay Patel January 3, 2022 at 6:18 am - Reply

    Nice Post!

    Thanks to share awarness content on corona misperceptions.

Leave A Comment