How to Help Healthcare Workers During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Dr. Patrick Carroll, MD
Medically reviewed by Patrick Carroll, MD Written by Our Editorial Team Published 3/13/2020

As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the United States, healthcare workers are finding themselves on the front lines of a massive crisis. Over the past few days, the White House has instituted travel restrictions from certain European countries while many universities, workplaces, and cultural institutions have temporarily shut their doors in an effort to "flatten the curve." Reducing the rate at which COVID-19 spreads throughout the population will be essential in helping to keep the healthcare system from being overwhelmed by a deluge of cases.

As the public watches the pandemic escalate, it’s obvious that healthcare workers are facing an extremely difficult challenge. What isn’t so obvious is understanding what we can do to help medical professionals during this challenging time. Below are a few ways you can personally help to make the lives of healthcare workers more manageable.

1. Stay home as much as possible

As community spread continues to rise, it’s highly recommended to practice “social distancing” even if you feel healthy. “The challenge with this virus is twofold,” says Hims & Hers’ Chief Medical Officer Pat Carroll. “It spreads fairly quickly and studies show that for at least five days you can be asymptomatic and still spread the virus without actually being aware that you’ve contracted it. When you distance yourself from people, your risk of contracting it is lower.” If community spread slows, healthcare workers will be able to devote more time and resources to the patients who need it most.

2. Do not buy or seek out medical masks

Hospitals and healthcare clinics are running dangerously low on N95 masks, a specific type of respirator that, when properly-fitted, filters out about 95 percent of airborne particles. This protective gear is essential for healthcare professionals to safely treat sick patients. Without masks, they are at high risk of contracting the virus and becoming patients themselves.

“Standard surgical masks are not going to have any impact at all in protecting against the virus,” Carroll says. “And the N95 masks should only be used by those who are directly caring for patients. The general public should instead prioritize minimizing exposure, washing hands rigorously, making sure surfaces are clean, and self-quarantining if they have any documented exposure.”

3. If you think you might have COVID-19, do not show up to a healthcare facility without calling first

“If you have a cough and a fever and you’re not experiencing shortness of breath, you’re probably going to recover from the virus and the last thing you should do is show up to a healthcare facility with symptoms that are indicative of COVID-19,” says Carroll. “In doing so, you risk spreading it to anyone you come in contact with when there’s nothing they can do in terms of treatment at that facility.”

If your symptoms are manageable and you are not part of the demographic that is most at risk (older adults and those with serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease) call your doctor, keep them informed about the progression of your illness, and self-quarantine for 14 days.

The CDC lists the following as symptoms for which you should seek immediate medical attention: difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to arouse, and bluish lips or face.

For more information on what to do if you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, follow the guidelines spelled out by the CDC here.

4. Reach out to the healthcare workers in your life and ask if they need child care assistance

With many schools temporarily closed, medical professionals with children are faced with an impossible situation. If you have the time, flexibility, and resources, consider offering to look after the children of any healthcare workers in your life. It’s extremely important to only do this if you are not experiencing any symptoms and you have not recently returned from a high-risk area or had recent exposure. Providing help with child care will ensure medical professionals can do the essential work of caring for those with potentially life-threatening cases of COVID-19.

Even if you can’t help with childcare, make sure to send a message of encouragement to the healthcare workers in your life. They will need all the support they can get in the coming weeks and months, so make it clear you’re available if they need to talk to someone.

5. Consider donating to an organization that provides support to medical professionals

Organizations like Direct Relief and Project Hope are coordinating with public health authorities, nonprofit organizations, and businesses in both China and the U.S. to provide personal protective equipment and other essential items to healthcare workers responding to COVID-19. Consider making a monetary donation to help healthcare workers stay safe and continue doing what they do best.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.