Health care workers who reported exposure to COVID-19 were mostly infected at home

A study of health care workers at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics who self-reported significant exposure to COVID-19 found that exposure at home was more likely to result in infection with the disease compared with exposure in the community or at work.

Between Sept. 1 and Nov. 30, 2020, 26% of study participants who reported significant exposure at home went on to be infected, compared with 18% who reported exposure in the community and 10% who reported exposure at work. The researchers said that result was to be expected given that household exposures are likely to be longer and closer.

Overall, of the 1,749 workers who reported significant exposure 17% converted to infected status, which was observed in a median of 4.1 days. Significant exposure was defined as being within six feet of a person with COVID-19 for more than 15 minutes, without a face covering. The study was published in the journal Microbiology & 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,” says Brooks Jackson, MD, MBA, UI Vice President for Medical Affairs and the Tyrone D. Artz Dean of the UI Carver College of Medicine and a professor of pathology.

“Moreover, only 14% of the workplace conversions were due to exposure to infected co-workers as opposed to exposure to patients who were known to be infected at time of exposure,” he continued. “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.”

In addition to Jackson, the research team included Patrick Hartley, MB, BCh, UI clinical professor of internal medicine – pulmonary critical care and occupational medicine, John Heinemann, director of clinical performance management with UI Health Care, and Jorge Salinas, MD, UI clinical assistant professor of internal medicine – infectious diseases, and hospital epidemiologist at UI Hospital & Clinics.