Nurses and other healthcare providers are navigating a rapidly changing world during the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic, and that includes answering patients’ questions about the disease. Anthony A. Fauci, MD, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in a Clinical Conversations podcast, suggested a two-pronged approach to talking with patients about COVID-19.

First, give patients the big picture: this is a serious situation outside of the United States, but they shouldn’t take on the burden of the broader global issue. The general risk of infection for U.S. residents remains very low. Second, explain what patients can do individually. Personal hygiene (i.e., washing their hands frequently; not touching their mouth, nose, or eyes; and not coughing or sneezing into their hand) is always good practice. In communities where the disease has spread, social distancing is vital—this means separating yourself by at least six feet and avoiding crowds or places that tend to draw large numbers of people.

For families of patients who may be at higher risk, such as patients with cancer or patients who are immunocompromised, Fauci recommended acting as if you are infected, which will protect your family member and also yourself.

Emphasize that the situation is not static and changes quickly. Patients and caregivers should get their information from reputable sites, such as CDC.gov and coronavirus.gov. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has an information sheet on keeping workplaces, schools, and homes safe that is an excellent resource for patients and their families.

Most of all, don’t panic, Fauci said, but it is important to help patients and families understand that we do need to act differently for a time. Giving patients facts and advice on what they need to know and do can go a long way to alleviating fears and helping to ensure that we work together in the coming days and weeks.

How are you talking with your patients about COVID-19? Share your information and ideas on the ONS COVID-19 Community.