Doctors call for protective wear for sanitary workers and mortuary staff

Sanitary workers must be provided with adequate protective gear, experts say

Sanitary workers must be provided with adequate protective gear, experts say   | Photo Credit: B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

If not well protected, workers could contract the infection and pass it on to others, experts said

The government’s proposal to provide protective gear to sanitary workers has brought into focus their vulnerability, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Doctors say they need as much protection as healthcare workers.

On Saturday, the Municipal Administration Minister had indicated that those who go on door-to-door visits would also be provided with protective equipment.

A public health expert said protective gear should be supplied to those on the field and others doing related work, such as keeping the city clean or collecting data from house surveys. Invariably, if they are not well protected, they might land up catching the infection, or passing it on from household to household.

“The city has around 40,000 sanitary workers of which the Corporation employs around 30,000,” said P. Kuganantham, former city health officer and currently COVID-19 task force member. “They are invariably exposed to pollution. They could be provided with aprons, gloves, boots and five-layer masks. The workers could be given five sets of masks so that they can wash and reuse them,” he added. While the process has started already, it was observed in many places that all those who do the survey were not wearing the masks. Without proper orientation, this will only result in worsening of the epidemic, experts said.

Forensic medicine expert K. Mathiharan said even those who handle bodies of those who died of the infection should be provided with adequate protective gear.

“There is no evidence as yet to suggest that COVID-19 has been transmitted from a cadaver. The body should be wrapped in cloth and transferred at the earliest to the mortuary for disposal, be it for cremation or burial. Children, those older than 60 years of age and those with underlying illnesses or compromised immune systems should not handle the dead bodies,” he said.

The expert said the mode of disposal of a body is a matter of cultural choice and available resources. However, funeral ceremonies must be postponed till the end of the epidemic. Only a few members should be allowed to participate and they should strictly observe physical distance at all times. They must also maintain respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene, he said.

Mortuary workers should be provided with protective equipment such as masks, face shields or goggles, gloves, boots and disposable gown with impermeable aprons. Since human coronaviruses can remain infectious on surfaces for as much as nine days, it is important to disinfect the surfaces used to prepare the body with soap and water/detergent and later disinfect the surface with a minimum concentration of 0.1% of sodium hypochlorite (bleach) or 70% ethanol for at least one minute. A similar protocol should be followed if a person dies at home, Dr. Mathiharan said.

Similarly the clothes and fabrics used by the deceased should be machine-washed in warm water at 60−90°C (140−194°F) and laundry detergent, he added.

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Printable version | Jul 15, 2020 5:56:45 PM |

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