For healthcare workers, the main COVID-19 risk is outside of workplace

Doctors health

By Mardi Chapman

28 Apr 2020

Australian healthcare workers are more likely to have contracted COVID-19 outside their workplace than while on the job, according to early data from the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

The findings should provide some reassurance for health professionals, their families and their employers who have been horrified at the COVID-19 losses from their ranks in other countries.

A preprint article in The MJA reported that only 11 RMH staff members had tested positive during a month when 1160 symptomatic staff were screened in a staff clinic and others were screened in a public clinic.

“Of the 11, eight had a history of travel or close contact with a COVID-19 case in the community. With the other three HCWs, there was no obvious COVID-19 contact in the workplace, during a period when fewer than 10 patients with COVID-19 were treated at RMH.”

Two of those three healthcare workers did not work in a clinical setting and a third worked in a ward with no known COVID-19 patients.

“These data indicate that COVID-19 is very uncommon in HCWs at present, and that the large majority of HCWs who have contracted COVID-19, have done so away from work.”

“There is already intensive training in the use of appropriate PPE in the workplace, and we continue to reassure HCWs that this affords high-level protection.”

The authors, infectious disease physicians Dr Stephen Muhi and Professor Kristy Buising and respiratory physician Associate Professor Lous Irving, said there was no intention to trivialise the risk to frontline health care workers.

But the data should remind health professionals about the importance of general measures such as social distancing and hand hygiene outside the workplace.

They noted there were high levels of anxiety among health care workers fueled by the highly publicised speculation and concerns about access to PPE.

Read here in The Conversation what public health physician Associate Professor Nathan Grills has to say when contemplating his individual risk of COVID-19.

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