Health workers’ greatest COVID-19 risk is from community, new data show

The greatest COVID-19 risk factors for healthcare personnel (HCP) aren’t patient contact or clinical duties but rather community exposure and prevalence, according to a JAMA Network Open study yesterday.

The study pulls together survey and serologic data from almost 25,000 US HCPs. It found that exposure to a positive community contact increased the likelihood of infection 3.5 times and high cumulative exposure increased the likelihood 1.8 times.

“The news is reassuring in that it shows the measures taken are working to prevent infections from spreading in healthcare facilities,” said study co-author Anthony Harris, MD, MPH, in a University of Maryland press release. “Vaccination for healthcare workers, however, should remain a priority because of continual exposures in the workplace.”

Healthcare job, patient contact not significant factors

The researchers collected volunteer samples and survey data from 24,749 HCP across four large healthcare systems and three states (Georgia, Maryland, and northeast Illinois). Serologic tests looking for COVID-19 antibodies showed that, from Apr 19 to Aug 30, 2020, 4.4% of HCPs were positive, ranging from 3.1% (University of Maryland) to 5.7% (University of Emory).

Of the HCP, 69.6% were younger than 50, 78.2% were women, and 61.2% were White. About half (50.2%) of all participants had contact with COVID-19 patients in any way, and 35.9% worked in inpatient settings. The most common occupations were nurses (31.6%), nonclinical staff (21.4%), and physicians (18.2%); 9.7% worked in the emergency department.

Even though HCP were likely to have work-related contact with people infected by COVID-19, the adjusted odds ratio (aOR) did not show significantly increased risk (1.1; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.9 to 1.3).

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