Screening of patients & support individuals
Proper screening of patients and support individuals is critical to protecting both patients and staff in the L&D unit. This should include an expanded questionnaire that asks about disturbances of smell and taste and GI symptoms like loss of appetite – not only the more commonly queried symptoms of fever, shortness of breath, coughing, and exposure to someone who may have been ill.
Recent studies regarding presenting symptoms cast significant doubt, in fact, on the validity of patients with “asymptomatic COVID-19.” Over 15% of patients with confirmed infection in one published case series had solely GI symptoms and almost all had some digestive symptoms, for example, and almost 90% in another study had absent or reduced sense of smell and/or taste.1,2 In fact, the use of the term “paucisymptomatic” rather than “asymptomatic” may be most appropriate.
Support individuals also should undergo temperature screening, ideally with laser noncontact thermometers on entry to the hospital or triage.
The number of visitors/support individuals should be kept to a minimum to reduce transmission risk. The actual number will be determined by hospital or state policy, but up to one visitor in the labor room appears reasonable. Very strong individual justification should be required to exceed this threshold! The visitor should not only be screened for an expanded list of symptoms, but they also should be queried for underlying illnesses (e.g., diabetes, cardiovascular disease, significant lung disease, undergoing cancer therapy) as well as for age over 65 years, each of which increase the chances of severe COVID-19 disease should infection occur. The visitor should be informed of such risks and, especially when accompanying a patient with known or suspected COVID-19, provided the option of voluntarily revoking their visitor status. A visitor with known or suspected COVID-19 infection based on testing or screening should not be allowed into the L&D unit.
In addition, institutions may be considered to have obligations to the visitor/support person beyond screening. These include instructions in proper mask usage, hand washing, and limiting the touching of surfaces to lower infection risk.
“Visitor relays” where one visitor replaces another should be strongly discouraged. Visitors should similarly not be allowed to wander around the hospital (to use phones, for instance); transiting back and forth to obtain food and coffee should be kept to a strict minimum. For visitors accompanying COVID-19–-infected women, “visitor’s plates” provided by the hospital at reasonable cost is a much-preferred arrangement for obtaining meals during the course of the hospital stay. In addition, visitors should be sent out of the room during the performance of aerosolizing procedures.
Labor and delivery management
The successful management of patients with COVID-19 requires a rigorous infection control protocol informed by guidelines from national entities, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and by state health departments when available.
Strict limits on the number of obstetricians and other health care workers (HCWs) entering the patient’s room should be enforced and documented to minimize risk to the HCWs attending to patients who have a positive diagnosis or who are under investigation. Only in cases of demonstrable clinical benefit should repeat visits by the same or additional HCWs be permitted. Conventional and electronic tablets present an excellent opportunity for patient follow-up visits without room entry. In our institution, this has been successfully piloted in nonpregnant patients. Obstetricians and others caring for obstetrical patients – especially those who are infected or under investigation for infection – should always wear a properly fitted N95 mask.
Because patients with COVID-19 may have or go on to develop a constellation of organ abnormalities (e.g., cardiovascular, renal, pulmonary), it is vital that a standardized panel of baseline laboratory studies be developed for pregnant patients. This will minimize the need for repeated blood draws and other testing which may increase HCW exposure.
A negative screen based on nonreport of symptoms, lack of temperature elevation, and reported nonexposure to individuals with COVID-19 symptoms still has limitations in terms of disease detection. A recent report from a tertiary care hospital in New York City found that close to one-third of pregnant patients with confirmed COVID-19 admitted over a 2-week period had no viral symptoms or instructive history on initial admission.3 This is consistent with our clinical experience. Most importantly, therefore, routine quantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction testing should be performed on all patients admitted to the L&D unit.
Given the reported variability in the accuracy of polymerase chain reaction testing induced by variable effectiveness of sampling techniques, stage of infection, and inherent test accuracy issues, symptomatic patients with a negative test should first obtain clearance from infectious disease specialists before isolation precautions are discontinued. Repeat testing in 24 hours, including testing of multiple sites, may subsequently yield a positive result in persistently symptomatic patients.