COVID-19 rate low among UW Medicine’s patient-care staff

Prevalence of infection in front-line employees appears comparable to those with no patient contact and lower than overall community members.

As the coronavirus outbreak was emerging in Seattle, UW Medicine stakeholders realized that healthcare workers needed access to rapid SARS-CoV-2 testing – not only to know whether they were infected, but also to get the caregivers back to work quickly if they were not.

“Once we had data from our two testing centers, we wanted to know whether employees who had direct contact with patients had higher risk of developing COVID-19 than employees who didn’t interact with patients,” said Dr. Nandita Mani, a UW Medicine fellow in infectious diseases.

The resulting data gave rise to a study published this week in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. Mani and infectious-diseases colleague Dr. Jehan Budak were co-first authors of a paper that had more than 30 contributors.

Their study’s main finding was that, during the study span, the SARS-CoV-2 prevalence among symptomatic front-line clinical staff (5.2%) was comparable to that of other employees (5.5%) – and significantly less than the 10.3% positivity rate among UW Medicine patients during the same time span, which may have reflected community rates.

That information, Mani said, suggested that UW Medicine hospitals’ infection-prevention protocols, such as the prescribed use of personal protective equipment (PPE), have adequately safeguarded patient-facing staff.

“Based on our findings, we don’t have strong reason to believe that our frontline healthcare workers are at higher risk of acquiring COVID than other employees or other community members,” she said.

Mani credited the study findings to the group of clinicians and administrators who brought two coronavirus testing centers online quickly at UW Medical Center – Northwest and Harborview Medical Center. The fact that we had so much data so quickly is a testament to that effort, she said. The Northwest campus hospital’s garage test site, which opened March 6, was likely the first of its kind in the United States.

Brian Donohue, 206.543.7856,

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Tags:COVID-19PPE (personal protective equipment)

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