Surgical site infections: guidance for elective surgery during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic - international recommendations and clinical experience

J Hosp Infect. 2021 May:111:189-199. doi: 10.1016/j.jhin.2021.02.011. Epub 2021 Feb 15.


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic not only had an impact on public life and healthcare facilities in general, but also affected established surgical workflows for elective procedures. The strategy to protect patients and healthcare workers from infection by SARS-CoV-2 in surgical departments has needed step-by-step development. Based on the evaluation of international recommendations and guidelines, as well as personal experiences in a clinical 'hot spot' and in a 450-bed surgical clinic, an adapted surgical site infection (SSI) prevention checklist was needed to develop concise instructions, which described roles and responsibilities of healthcare professionals that could be used for wider guidance in pandemic conditions.

Method: Publications of COVID-19-related recommendations and guidelines, produced by health authorities and organizations, such as WHO, US-CDC, ECDC, the American College of Surgery and the Robert Koch Institute, were retrieved, assessed and referenced up to 31st January 2020. Additionally, clinical personal experiences in Germany were evaluated and considered.

Results: Part 1 of this guidance summarizes the experience of a tertiary care, surgical centre which utilized redundant hospital buildings for immediate spatial separation in a 'hot spot' COVID-19 area. Part 2 outlines the successful screening and isolation strategy in a surgical clinic in a region of Germany with outbreaks in surrounding medical centres. Part 3 provides the synopsis of personal experiences and international recommendations suggested for implementation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Conclusion: Understanding of COVID-19, and SARS-CoV-2-related epidemiology, is constantly and rapidly changing, requiring continuous adaptation and re-evaluation of recommendations. Established national and local guidelines for continuation of surgical services and prevention of SSI require ongoing scrutiny and focused implementation. This manuscript presents a core facility checklist to support medical institutions to continue their clinical and surgical work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keywords: COVID-19; Core checklist; Guidance; Outbreak prevention; Surgical site infections; Triage.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 / prevention & control*
  • Disease Outbreaks / prevention & control*
  • Elective Surgical Procedures / standards*
  • Germany
  • Humans
  • Infection Control / standards*
  • Pandemics / prevention & control*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Surgical Wound Infection / prevention & control*