Despite Protective Equipment, Health Care Workers More Likely to Test Positive for Coronavirus

Nurses and medical workers react as police officers and pedestrians cheer them outside Lenox Hill Hospital in New York on April 15. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

(CN) — New research released Friday shows that frontline health care workers are three times more likely to test positive for Covid-19 despite the use of personal protective equipment.

A study published in the journal Lancet Public Health showed that even with adequate equipment, health care workers in the U.S. and U.K. had a higher risk of developing Covid-19 symptoms and testing positive for the virus.

Front-line health care workers who lacked adequate PPE or were forced to re-use equipment had an even higher risk, and workers from Black, Asian and minority backgrounds were even more likely to test positive. The study showed that non-white health care workers were five times more likely to be infected or exposed than the general public.

Using the Covid Symptom Tracker App, researchers from King’s College London and Harvard looked at data from 2,035,395 individuals and 99,795 front-line health care workers in the two countries. The prevalence of Covid-19 was 2,747 cases per 100,000 front-line health care workers, compared with 242 cases per 100,000 people in the general community.

“The findings of our study have tremendous impact for healthcare workers and hospitals. The data is clear in revealing that there is still an elevated risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection despite availability of PPE,” said Sebastien Ourselin, senior author and professor from King’s College London.

Researchers pointed out that the study shows the importance of not only providing health care workers with sufficient PPE, but also the need for additional strategies to protect health care workers, such as ensuring correct application and removal of such equipment and avoiding reuse, which was associated with increased risk.

An American Nurses Association survey in June found that 79% of surveyed nurses said they are required or encouraged to reuse single-use PPE such as N95 masks, with 59% saying this made them feel unsafe. Nurses also reported that health care facilities are decontaminating N95 masks, which under normal circumstances are intended to be destroyed after use to prevent the spread of disease.

Professor Ourselin also noted that members of the Black, Asian and minority communities, “experience elevated risk of infection and in some cases lack access to adequate PPE, or frequently reuse equipment.”

“The work is important in the context of the widely reported higher death rates among healthcare workers from BAME backgrounds. Hopefully a better understanding of the factors contributing to these disparities will inform efforts to better protect workers,” joint author Mark Graham from King’s College London stated.

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