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In March 2020, everything changed for nurse practitioners (NPs), their patients and the health care delivery system. The COVID-19 pandemic brought challenges that forced people across the world to change the way they work and live. Even though unprecedented steps were taken to reduce the risk of disease transmission, COVID-19 cases still surged in the U.S. as the nation struggled to adapt. As hospitals reached and surpassed their capacity, NPs stepped up to provide lifesaving care for their patients and communities.
More than two years later, the COVID-19 pandemic has now become an everyday part of people’s lives. NPs and other health care providers are still reckoning with the effects of COVID-19, keeping track of ever-changing COVID-19 guidelines and addressing vaccine hesitancy in their communities. To assist you and your patients as you navigate the new normal, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners® (AANP) has assembled the latest tools and resources related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, the COVID-19 pandemic may have taken a backseat in many patients’ minds. Federal agencies and local governments have loosened COVID-19 restrictions and lifted mask mandates, while many businesses have opened back up to the public. Yet, for NPs and other health care providers, combating COVID-19 remains a top priority. It is thanks to your efforts on the front lines of the pandemic — educating patients, administering vaccines and providing lifesaving care — that many people now feel safe enough to step outside and resume some sense of normalcy.
Yet, COVID-19 still poses a threat to public health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. has lost more than 1 million lives to COVID-19. This grim milestone highlights the importance of work that remains to be done to ensure COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths are prevented in the coming years. Now is the time to unite — provider and patient alike — and continue the fight against COVID-19.
With the introduction of new vaccines and vaccination timelines, the fluctuation in the number of cases and the emergence of new virus variants, COVID-19 guidelines have changed significantly over the course of the pandemic. Because it’s important for all NPs to stay up to date on the latest guidelines for COVID-19 prevention and treatment, AANP is committed to equipping you with the resources needed to keep yourself and your patients safe and informed.
According to the CDC, COVID-19 vaccines are the most effective way to prevent your patients from getting sick and one of the best ways to slow the spread of the virus. Yet, there are other ways to reduce the risk of contracting or transmitting COVID-19. Although federal mask mandates have been lifted across the U.S., the CDC still recommends that, “everyone ages two years and older should properly wear a well-fitting mask indoors in public areas where the COVID-19 Community Level is high, regardless of vaccination status.” In addition to this, NPs should encourage patients, especially those at high-risk of severe illness from COVID-19, to avoid poorly ventilated spaces and crowds, maintain a social distance of six feet from others in indoor spaces and test to prevent the spread of infection if patients experience any symptoms.
If one of your patients tests positive for COVID-19 or has symptoms of the virus, encourage them to stay home for at least five days, isolate from others in their home and wear a well-fitting mask if they must be around others in their home. Most importantly, remind your patients to avoid all travel after testing positive for COVID-19. After five full days, patients who have been fever-free for 24 hours, or who did not experience any COVID-19 symptoms, can end their isolation. Those patients who experience severe symptoms or who have a weakened immune system should isolate for at least 10 days and consult with their NP before ending their isolation.
It's also important for your patients to know when to stay home and quarantine after COVID-19 exposure. If your patients are not up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations, it is recommended that they quarantine for at least five days and be tested at least five days after their exposure to someone with COVID-19. Although your patients who are up to date on their vaccinations do not need to quarantine after exposure unless they test positive for the virus, they should still get tested five days after their exposure and watch for symptoms for ten days after exposure, as well.
One of the most effective ways to ensure the safety of your community is through continued vaccination efforts. Most recently, COVID-19 vaccinations have become available for all patients six months of age and older, as well as booster doses for everyone age five years and older. In order to help keep parents and caregivers informed about vaccinating their children against COVID-19, the CDC has released an informative guide on pediatric vaccines.
If you have younger patients who are behind on routine vaccinations, encourage your patients’ parents and caregivers to bring their children in for routine vaccinations and COVID-19 vaccination — all in the same day. NPs know that no two patients are the same, and COVID-19 vaccination is no different. Please refer to the CDC’s Interim COVID-19 Immunization Schedule for 6 Months of Age and Older for a quick reference guide on how to keep all your patients vaccinated and safe.
Despite overwhelming evidence of the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, the announcement of pediatric COVID-19 vaccines has been met with some hesitancy. Data show that COVID-19 vaccination rates are down, despite the significant number of pediatric patients who are now eligible for their initial series of vaccinations. Although more than 75% of the U.S. population has received their initial dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, that percentage drops significantly when it comes to full vaccinations (first and second dose), the first booster dose and, for patients 50 years of age and older, the second booster dose.
NPs are trusted caregivers in their communities, and you have the ability to influence positive change by educating your patients about COVID-19 vaccines. This is especially vital in minority communities, where vaccine intake has been considerably slower when compared to white, non-Hispanic populations. In a recent AANP News Feed article on health equity, Dr. Larider Ruffin stated that, “Although we know that nursing has been the most trusted profession for many years, we need to start restoring that trust within minority communities. There are opportunities for nurses and NPs to take a stand and get vaccinated so that our patients may follow in our footsteps.” To aid in this effort, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health (OMH) has created toolkits and resources centered around boosting vaccine intake and reducing health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities. Additionally, the CDC has released a guide on how to Vaccinate With Confidence: Strategy to Reinforce Confidence in COVID-19 Vaccines. Through these resources, NPs can continue to support the health of their patients amid COVID-19.
Are you looking to make a positive impact on the health of your patients by improving COVID-19 vaccine confidence? Enroll in The NP’s Role in COVID-19 Vaccine Confidence — Part 3 to hear from two NP experts, Drs. Ruth Carrico and Hudson Garrett, as they discuss the current landscape of COVID-19 vaccination.
The webinar includes case studies to help you apply patient counseling techniques, polling questions and a Q&A. Enroll today to earn 2.0 contact hours of continuing education credit, 0.5 of which may be applied toward pharmacology. Would you like more insights from these experts? After you’re done with this activity, listen to episode 48 of the NP Pulse: The Voice of the Nurse Practitioner® podcast on Combatting COVID-19 Vaccination Myths.