You're Up to 11 Times More Likely to Get COVID If You Work Here, Study Says
These employees have a heightened risk of getting infected with the coronavirus, even with precautions.
Since states started reopening businesses and people began going back to work at the start of the summer, we've all been warned that certain places are riskier than others when it comes to catching COVID-19. And while many of us are doing our best to avoid indoor, crowded places with poor ventilation—like bars and restaurants—there are some places we have to go that put us at risk of catching the virus, like your workplace, for example. And it turns out, working at one place in particular makes your risk of catching COVID spike. According to a recent study, frontline healthcare workers are up to 11 times more likely to get COVID compared to the general public.
The study, which was published in the journal The Lancet Public Health, observed 2 million people in the United Kingdom and United States between March and April, all of whom used the COVID Symptom Study app created by Zoe Global. The researchers found that in the general community, there were 242 cases per 100,000 people. But looking at healthcare workers, those numbers started to climb. Out of the 2 million users, 99,795 were frontline healthcare workers and the prevalence of COVID among them was 2,747 cases per 100,000—that's 11.35 times higher than the average person.
However, after taking into account other factors, like the likelihood of receiving a COVID test at a medical facility, researchers determined that even when using personal protective equipment (PPE), frontline healthcare workers were still at least three times more likely to get the coronavirus than the general public. And for Black, Asian, and other minority healthcare workers, the infection risk was even higher. BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) were at least five times more likely to get the coronavirus, compared to the non-Hispanic white community.
"The findings of our study have tremendous impact for healthcare workers and hospitals," Sebastien Ourselin, PhD, senior author of the study, said in a statement. "The data is clear in revealing that there is still an elevated risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection despite availability of PPE."
The researchers also noted that the "reuse of PPE or inadequate PPE" came with an even greater increased risk of contracting COVID-19. This is especially troubling considering the PPE shortage that's been plaguing healthcare workers in the U.S. In California, for example, a lack of sufficient PPE may have infected 20,860 essential workers and members of their households, who would have otherwise not gotten the virus, according to a recent study from the University of California Berkeley Labor Center.
The lack of sufficient PPE was also behind the racial disparity among healthcare workers in the new Lancet Public Health study, the researchers note. "Non-white healthcare workers were disproportionately affected by scant PPE adequacy," they wrote. They were also "more likely to work in clinical settings with greater exposure to patients with COVID-19." In fact, the study highlighted two healthcare settings where the likelihood of getting the coronavirus was highest: inpatient settings and nursing homes. The highest reported reuse of PPE was in inpatient settings and the highest reported occurrence of inadequate PPE was among those working in nursing homes, according to the study.
Overall, the exceptionally high COVID-19 risk for frontline healthcare workers shines a light on the need for increased observation of those working with coronavirus patients—especially when it comes to PPE.
The researchers believe their study highlights "the importance of not only ensuring PPE quality and availability but also other aspects of appropriate use, including correct application and removal of PPE and clinical situation." The authors also stress the importance of increasing testing for these workers to help reduce hospital-based COVID transmission, which could be a huge source of community spread. And for another dangerous place amid the pandemic, check out This One Place Is Where You're Most Likely to Get COVID, Study Finds.