Even with PPE, risk of Covid-19 still high for frontline workers

  • Healthcare workers on the front line of the fight against Covid-19 had an increased risk of infection
  • Black, Asian and minority healthcare workers had nearly twice the risk of their white colleagues
  • Workers without adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) also had a higher risk of infection

At the peak of the pandemic in the United States and United Kingdom, frontline health care workers, especially minorities, had much higher risks for Covid-19 than other individuals, a new study finds.

Paramedics, who are often the first to see sick patients, are at far greater risk of testing positive for Covid-19 than others, the researchers said. That's especially true for frontline health care workers who are Black, Asian or from other minority ethnic backgrounds.

For the study, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston reviewed data collected on a smartphone app from more than two million members of the general public and nearly 100 000 frontline healthcare workers in the United States and the United Kingdom. Between 24 March and 23 April, more than 5 500 respondents tested positive for Covid-19.

Some risk remained

Healthcare workers had at least a threefold increased risk of Covid-19, the study found. Black, Asian and minority healthcare workers had nearly twice the increased risk of their white counterparts.

Workers who reported lacking adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) – such as masks, gloves and gowns – had an especially higher risk. But even when adequate protection was available, some risk remained.

"Although it is clear that healthcare workers on the front line of the fight against Covid-19 have an increased risk of infection, our country continues to face vexing shortages of PPE," said senior author Dr Andrew Chan, chief of Mass General's clinical and translational epidemiology unit.

"Our results underscore the importance of providing adequate access to PPE, and also suggest that systemic racism associated with inequalities to access to PPE likely contribute to the disproportionate risk of infection among minority frontline healthcare workers," he added in a hospital news release.

The findings were published on 31 July in The Lancet Public Health.

Image credit: Supplied

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