Health care workers may be contracting COVID-19 at lower rates than most Ohioans, new report finds

Coronavirus

CLEVELAND (WJW) — “One of the first things that we worried about when we began dealing with COVID is, what is the risk to our front-line worker,” said Dr. Matthew Exline, the Medical Director of OSU Wexner’s Medical Intensive Care Unit.

However, health care workers may be contracting COVID at a lower rate than most Ohioans. 

The CDC recently published the results of a new study that Exline co-authored with a multi-state hospital network including Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.

“Contrary to what we thought was gonna happen where everybody who was in a COVID unit was eventually going to get COVID,” Exline said. “We found that a very low number of our health care workers were testing positive for COVID.”

Fewer than 1 percent of the hospital’s clinical staff tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies. On Thursday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine cited antibody surveillance from the American Red Cross that showed about 3.3 percent of Ohioans appear to have antibodies.

“You begin making antibodies right after you get exposed to COVID. We think within about 10 to 14 days you will have a pretty good antibody response and we will be able to detect it if we look for it,” Exline said.

With the exception of New York City, the numbers were very low across the network of 13 academic medical centers that were part of the study said Exline. 

“In Ohio what was helpful is, most of our clinicians who tested positive knew they had COVID and felt sick,” he said.

Exline says the numbers are very reassuring but admits the testing isn’t perfect. 

“We don’t have like a gold standard that says we know with 100 percent certainty you’re someone who had it or not. So we do the best we can, that being said, this test is pretty good,” he said.

The results point to precautions that were imposed early in the outbreak. “Here in Columbus and Ohio in general, our PPE supplies have been very good,” he said.

It’s important to him to know that they can treat patients for COVID without putting his colleagues at risk provided they have the right equipment.

“It’s safe for you to work here because we’re gonna keep you safe. With the tools we’re giving you you’re not gonna get COVID, you’re not going to take it home to your family,” Exline said.

The study is ongoing as researchers see whether infection rates among health care providers change over a long period of time.

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