The COVID-19 pandemic is proving to be one of the biggest public health challenges in recent history. The highly infectious disease has already spread to more than 190 countries and territories, infecting nearly half a million people and killing tens of thousands in its first three months.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has asked individuals and organisations alike to follow necessary precautions to help stop the further spread of the coronavirus.
SafeWork Laboratories is answering the call for preventive measures against COVID-19. We have taken steps to keep both our workers and clients safe from the dreaded disease. Learn more about SWL’s coronavirus strategies in our FAQ.
Work Related FAQs
Why doesn’t SWL wear face masks?
Standard surgical masks cannot protect you from the new coronavirus. They do not block out viral particles and lay flush to the face.
However, surgical masks can reduce the spread of the virus from symptomatic infected people to bystanders. They can block any virus-infected respiratory droplets expelled from their mouths or noses of COVID-19 patients.
On the other hand, wearing an ordinary mask during a collection would only be cosmetic, not effective. If worn for too long, ordinary masks tend to be more susceptible to contamination.
Doctors and nurses typically use special masks known as N95 respirators. These masks have better protection against coronavirus transmission. However, users need to have specific training to be able to wear them properly.
To use an N95 mask, you need to make sure that it fits tightly around the cheeks, nose, and chins so that no virus could enter. You also have to check the mask for any damage after every use.
We take every necessary precaution to ensure that our staff and our clients are free from any health risks. If one of our employees develops symptoms of the disease, we would ask them to self-isolate. We wouldn’t allow them to interact with our collections throughout the duration of their illness.
Is breath alcohol testing safe from COVID-19?
Yes. Breath alcohol testing per se does not pose any significant risk of infection as long as infectious disease precautions are followed.
The Victoria Police announced that the exposure risk from Preliminary Breath Test (PBT) is no different from ‘going about your daily life in the community’ (Eyewatch 2020). They based the information on peer-reviewed research data recommended by the agency’s Expert Advisory Panel.
Our SWL staff makes sure that all of our breath testing devices are free from contamination. Technicians regularly wipe down all of our devices with lightly wetted tissue with hospital grade Viraclean before every use. We also use Dettol, Pine-o-Clean, or foaming non-alcoholic hand wash if Viraclean is not available. [CDC report (2020) as per Liao et al (2020) and Xia et al (2015)]
SWL uses two main devices for breath testing: the Alcoquant and the Alcolizer.
The Alcoquant blows back the donor’s own exhaled breath toward them during testing. The procedure does not pose any risk to the donor since the mouthpiece is sterile and for single use only. Technicians sterilise the head of the device immediately after each use.
Meanwhile, the Alcolizer also features a sterile, single-use mouthpiece. We sterilise the head of the device after every use. Whenever we use the Alcolizer, we angle its mouthpiece tube away from both the collector and donor to make sure there is a flow through. This helps lower the threat of infection to the donor.
Angling the mouthpiece tube helps reduce the backflow of expired air to a minimum, preventing the risk of infection during subsequent tests. We submit our flow through systems for CE Accreditation. This ensures that they pose only a small risk of transmission for infectious diseases.
Is standard (urine/oral fluid or hair) drug testing a risk for COVID-19?
Yes, they are safe.
During an oral fluid test, a donor selects a screening and collection device. We keep the apparatus sealed and only open it when we’re about to use it.
After taking a sample from the donor, we immediately place the specimen in a sealed container. We make sure that our screening and collection devices are to remove the risk of disease transmission to the donor.
SWL also conducts urine collections in a hygienic manner. We store all of our specimens in environment-proof containers to prevent contamination.
Hair testing poses the smallest risk level of all of our procedures. Technicians always wear gloves when collecting specimens from the posterior vertex of the donor’s head. They then place the sample in sealed bags.
Why do they recommend at least 2 metres of physical separation from donors?
People are less likely to contract an infection if they are more than 1.5 to 2 metres away from a carrier, according to virus aerosol studies. Unless an infected donor is coughing directly at you, there is only a small chance that you’d get infected. This is especially true if you’re over 2 metres away from the donor. [Schaffer et al (1976), Fehr & Perlman (2015), Brunstein (2017) and van Doremalen et al (2020)]
Because of this, we require all of our employees to observe strict social distancing guidelines especially when collecting samples. This is to prevent the potential spread of infectious diseases.
- Maintaining Social distancing – at least 1.5 to 2 metres from another person – and avoid handshaking or embracing people at site
- To enhance dilution of donor aerosol emissions, open window ventilation is encouraged where possible (this will substantially reduce viral aerosols below the minimal TCID -tissue culture infectious dose)
- If donors and collectors were to cough, they should do so into their sleeve or onto disposable tissues.
Are children safe from COVID-19?
Children can contract COVID-19, but they are not as susceptible to the disease as adults.
In a study conducted in Hubei, China in February, researchers found that the coronavirus affected only 2 per cent of people under the age of 19. Globally, COVID-19 symptoms were not as severe among children unlike with adults.
Does Cannabis use help coronavirus patients?
No, smoking marijuana or taking medicinal cannabis does not help COVID-19 patients. In fact, they might even make the situation worse for sufferers.
Smoking marijuana aggravates staphylococcal infection, while tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) decreases immune function in lungs. The psychoactive drug also increases mortality rates in experimental animals with Legionnaires disease. It even raises viral loads in some case trials. [Hernandez Cervantez et al 2017]
Is smoking a risk factor?
Smokers are 14 times more likely to suffer COVID-19 complications than non-smokers, according to research by the University of California.
Dr. Stanton Glantz, director of the Centre for Tobacco Control Research and Education, analysed data from Hubei residents suffering from COVID-19-related pneumonia. He found that those who smoked had a higher chance of disease progression (including death) compared to those who did not smoke. [Glantz SA 2020]
Vaping also raised infection risk among users. A separate study showed that those who vape were more likely to contract respiratory infections and even delay recovery. [Gotts et al 2019]
People who have any cotinine in their bodies were more likely to suffer acute respiratory failure due to Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). Even low levels of cotinine due to second-hand smoke can trigger this complication.
Those who suffer from COVID-19 can develop ARDS.
Are pets a risk for COVID-19?
Pets do not seem to transmit COVID-19 to humans. In fact, conventional pets such as dogs, cats, ferrets, budgies, pythons and goldfish do not appear to be affected by the coronavirus.
Chinese officials reported a case where a Pomeranian allegedly contracted the virus from its owner. However, the animal did not develop any symptoms of the disease. Scientists also did not detect any viral titres when they re-examined the dog.
Earlier studies regarding SARS-CoV showed no possibility of pets contracting the virus or even passing it on to humans. It’s a difference case if the pet happens to be a bat.
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