The Coronavirus Impact on Histology Labs

If you’ve been to the grocery store this week you’ve probably noticed the empty shelves. Items like hand-sanitizer and toilet paper are in short supply as Americans quarantine themselves in their homes in light of the Covid-19 outbreak. Laboratories too are feeling the effects of the run on safety products.

If you’re in charge of ordering items such as surgical masks, bleach, hand-sanitizer, gloves, or disposable lab coats for your lab, you can expect to see a lot of that stuff out of stock and on back-order from vendors, with the current lab supply under lock and key, as hospitals report these being stolen. So, what about alcohol?

The web is flooded with recipes for making your own hand sanitizer. Most are recommending use of isopropyl alcohol (also known as rubbing alcohol) and aloe vera gel, but sites such as USA.com are also advertising ethyl alcohol as an alternative, with links for purchasing online. Can we expect to see a shortage of laboratory grade alcohols, and what do we do if that happens?

Depending on your location, and the continued spread of the virus it could be possible that a shortage occurs. The primary way that some labs are already reducing their usage of alcohol, prior to the outbreak, is through the use of a recycler. These machines are available from vendors such as CBG Biotech and Creative Waste Solutions and allow for the reuse of supplies such as xylene and alcohol. If you use a recycler, you need to document how you test for contamination and measure the percentage of alcohol. You can find some sample SOPs on recycled alcohol documentation here, free to members on The Block.

In the meantime, we hope everyone still at work is taking the recommended precautions. Most labs have canceled elective surgeries. Labs are splitting their staff up into teams, rotating shifts, to minimize contact between coworkers. Histotechs are seeing a much lighter workload, with some being let go, or reduced hours.

Remember to use common sense. Stay home if you are feeling sick. Some labs are instituting temperature checks, to check employees for fever on entering and leaving the hospital. In response to questions asking how to handle specimens that are potentially Covid positive, remember, you should be treating every sample as if it is infectious, so follow universal precautions and wear your PPE. For more information on how to handle the Coronavirus, check out this technical note from the Journal of Histotechnology.

You can find additional Corona resources on NSH's website.

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