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NIH Launches Coronavirus Resource Center for Health Care Workers

MAR 26, 2020 | RACHEL LUTZ
The National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) is adding to its long-running Worker Training Program, this time with a section geared toward health care workers fighting against the coronavirus outbreak.

According to a news release, the website launched after Congress passed a supplemental appropriation of $10 million earlier this month in order to support worker-based initiatives. The website will provide training for those who are at risk for exposure through their duties, such as emergency medical personnel, firefighters, law enforcement officers, environmental cleanup workers, high-risk custodial service workers, food processing and delivery workers, water and sewage treatment workers, sanitation workers, and health care facility employees.

“The law provided a total of $8.3 billion in emergency funding for certain federal agencies to respond to the coronavirus outbreak,” the statement added.

The website previously already included sections for Ebola and influenza (such as H1N1, pandemic and avian) outbreaks. The Worker Training Program awards grants for training and development of educational health care worker resources during public health emergencies. Health care workers need these resources as they are at high risk for potential exposure to pathogens, contaminated materials, or infected people, the statement continued.

In the past, this grant funded safety training for anthrax (2001), H5N1 flu (2007), and H1N1 (2009). The program also offered recommendations regarding mold remediation following Hurricane Katrina (2005) and Sandy (2012). For Ebola, the grants covered preparedness training as well from 2013-15.

“These men and women are so dedicated and as they work so hard to serve and protect the public during this COVID-19 pandemic, I want to make sure they know how to protect their own health too. We don’t need them getting sick, or taking the virus back to their families or their communities,” Joseph “Chip” Hughes, who has led the NIEHS WTP for 31 years, said in the press release. 

E-learning companies are expected to deliver training across the country and target high-risk industrial sectors, according to the statement. A workshop titled “Protecting Infectious Disease Responders During the COVID-19 Outbreak” was convened in partnership with Emory Health Sciences Center to develop these programs with the help of infectious disease experts, nurses and health care providers, emergency response organizations, and academic training centers. This group was tasked with creating the web-based learning activities.

One of the learning modules, titled “Protecting Yourself from COVID-19 in the Workplace,” details proper hand-washing techniques, an overview of the disease, symptoms, and transmission, policies that can be implemented to decrease exposure (including PPE use and decontamination procedures), and different health care roles with higher and lower risk for exposure. It also explains the difference between coronavirus and the seasonal flu and how health care workers can manage their stress and mental health during this time.

However, the presentation cautioned that by itself, it is not sufficient for personnel who have potential occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2.

“This COVID-19 virtual safety training program will be administered by NIEHS and was developed in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health,” the statement concluded.”
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