Among health care workers, nurses in particular have been at significant risk of contracting COVID-19, according to a new analysis of hospitalized patients by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The findings were released Monday as a surge of new hospitalizations swept the country, with several states hitting record levels of cases.
About 6% of adults hospitalized from March through May were health care workers, according to the researchers, with more than a third either nurses or nursing assistants. Roughly a quarter, or 27%, of those hospitalized workers were admitted to the intensive care unit, and 4% died during their hospital stay.
The study looked at 6,760 hospitalizations across 13 states, including California, New York, Ohio and Tennessee.
Health care workers “can have severe COVID-19-associated illness, highlighting the need for continued infection prevention and control in health care settings as well community mitigation efforts to reduce transmission,” the researchers said.
From the beginning of the pandemic in the United States, front-line medical personnel have complained of shortages of personal protective equipment. Some of the shortages abated for a while, but supplies have become strained in certain areas of the country as a surge of coronavirus outbreaks has reached daily records.
“We need more testing,” said Michelle Mahon, assistant director of nursing practice at National Nurses United, a union whose members have been vocal from the beginning of the pandemic about the dangers they faced without adequate supplies and protection.
Calling the findings no surprise, Mahon criticized federal officials for not having more robust guidelines in place. Her organization, which issued a report on workers' deaths last month, says about 2,000 health care workers have so far died from the virus.
She says that workers should be tested more frequently so they can be identified and isolated so the infection does not spread, and that supplies of protective gear remain uneven, with some facilities unprepared for an increase in cases.
Even though workers may be taking more precautions and treatments have improved in recent months, the analysis underscored how vulnerable many individuals are because of underlying health conditions, which include diabetes and high blood pressure. Almost three-quarters of those hospitalized were obese, a high-risk category for death, the study showed.
The majority had cared directly for patients, whether in a hospital, home or school setting. It could not be determined whether the individuals contracted the virus at work or in the community, but the study highlighted the potential risk faced by nurses who serve as front-line workers “because of their frequent and close patient contact, leading to extended cumulative exposure time.”
Most of the hospitalized workers in the analysis were female. They also tended to be older, and more were Black employees than the overall group of health care workers who contracted the virus.
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