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A study found University of Iowa health care workers were more likely to develop COVID-19 infections from exposures at home than in the workplace.
Based on these results, researchers concluded safety practices — including personal protective equipment and social distancing requirements — employed in the hospital, but often not in the home, were effective in preventing serious exposures from developing into a COVID-19 infection.
The study was published in the journal Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.
“Despite the density and significant population of an academic health care setting and number of patients with COVID-19, the conversion rate in the health care workplace is actually relatively low, provided safe practices are employed,” said Brooks Jackson, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics vice president for medical affairs and a member of the research team that conducted the study.
University researchers studied 1,749 UIHC health care workers who self-reported a significant exposure to the novel coronavirus from June to November 2020. Exposure is defined as being within 6 feet of individuals with COVID-19 for more than 15 minutes without a face covering.
Overall, 17 percent of the exposures resulted in an infection, according to the study.
Between Sept. 1 and Nov. 30 of this past year — when new COVID-19 cases were at an all-time high in the state — 26 percent of the more than 1,700 study participants who reported a significant virus exposure at home went on to develop COVID-19.
In comparison, 18 percent of those who reported exposure in the community and 10 percent who reported exposure at work were infected.
That’s because it’s more likely for someone at home to spend hours in close contact with another individual, such as a spouse or children, without a mask, Jackson said in an email.
“By the time a household member tests positive for COVID, the exposure to other household members can be quite extensive,” Jackson said.
In addition, Jackson said the majority of workplace exposures did not occur during interactions with patients, since health care workers are required to wear PPE and follow other safety precautions.
A small number of cases where transmission occurred between staff and patients took place when either party “were not known to be infected and were asymptomatic,” he added.
The study also found instances of exposures in the workplace between co-workers. Jackson said this may be occurring in the break room or in an office with other staff members, when staff have to take off their mask to eat.
“These workplace exposures, while low, point out the need to continuously employ safe practices at all times around patients and co-workers in the workplace,” Jackson said.
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