Safe Handling and Management of COVID-19 Testing

One of the ways that Australia has been able to stay ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic is by vigilantly testing its population using rapid antigen, PCR, and antibody tests. While they play a significant role in our combat against the pandemic, an extensive testing regimen is bound to generate a lot of medical waste.

Proper and safe disposal is the key to handling hazardous waste containing materials that can spread infectious diseases such as the coronavirus. The first step is to ensure your facility is well-equipped with quality medical waste containers, including a medical sharps container for the safe disposal of testing materials. Here are some tips for safely managing COVID-19 testing waste, including having the right containers to store them effectively.

Wear Proper Protective Equipment

Appropriate protective equipment is highly essential for medical professionals treating infected patients or administering COVID-19 tests to prevent infecting themselves, other patients, or their families. Examples of protective gear include N95 or other highly protective respiratory masks, a face shield, and a protective gown.

Additionally, gloves are also very important for protecting a person from further infection as the tester’s hands come in close contact with patients all day. Gloves should be changed regularly to prevent cross-contamination. Goggles or face shields are also helpful tools to help prevent further infection.

Store and Transport Specimens Carefully

Cross-contamination leads to the inaccuracy of test results. Whether testing on-site or sending specimens to a lab, you need to ensure that test samples are meticulously stored.  

It is crucial to keep each test sample properly while complying with lab procedure laws (many places have dedicated sample bags or other containers for safe transport). Discard other unnecessary testing components you no longer need for your test sample, including lancets, reagent tubes, swabs, and any other parts of the testing kit. Never reuse parts of a testing kit, as this will contaminate the next sample and potentially infect a healthy person.

Discard All Waste Properly

If you are conducting regular COVID-19 testing, your facility needs medical waste containers to safely dispose of tested samples, contaminated swabs, and more. Most components of the testing kit that come in contact with a potentially infectious person are considered biohazard waste. As such, you should only throw them out in a dedicated medical waste container.

In addition, medical waste should only go in a designated medical waste container. Do not overfill the container as that could lead to dangerous spills. Ensure you have regular emptying and removal schedules for your medical waste containers with a designated contractor.

Make sure you place the containers in designated storage areas that only staff can access. These areas should be well-ventilated and secured to prevent people and pests from getting to them. Do not attempt to treat, process, or compact any medical waste. Leave it to the licensed contractors to dispose of them.

Invest in a Medical Sharps Container

If your facility does antibody testing, you will need a medical sharps container. Antibody testing is done by drawing blood and analysing the sample for the presence of COVID-19 antibodies. After each usage, the sharp needles need somewhere to go.

Procedures for safely maintaining a sharps container are similar to general waste, although you need to be even more careful because the risk of injury is higher. Ensure that your container has hard sides to prevent the needles from puncturing the sides and poking through. Finally, never fill the container to the top and empty it regularly when it is half-full.

Be Careful When Discarding Unused Tests

If COVID-19 self-test kits are expired, the seals are broken or damaged in some other way; the kits need to be discarded before using them.

Double-check with local guidance on discarding unused COVID-19 tests. Usually, unused rapid antigen tests can go in the regular garbage as they are made for use at home where people are not likely to have designated medical waste receptacles, after all.

Safer Disposal Solutions

The large amount of testing our medical institutions needs to do in curbing the COVID-19 pandemic is bound to generate large amounts of medical waste, especially at testing facilities. As this type of waste is a health hazard, it must be appropriately stored and discarded according to local regulations.

For storage purposes, medical waste containers are a necessity to ensure the disposal of contaminated swabs, activating fluids, and other testing materials is conducted in a safe and efficient manner.