Risk of COVID-19 among frontline healthcare workers and the general community: a prospective cohort study

medRxiv. 2020 May 25;2020.04.29.20084111. doi: 10.1101/2020.04.29.20084111. Preprint


Background: Data for frontline healthcare workers (HCWs) and risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection are limited and whether personal protective equipment (PPE) mitigates this risk is unknown. We evaluated risk for COVID-19 among frontline HCWs compared to the general community and the influence of PPE.

Methods: We performed a prospective cohort study of the general community, including frontline HCWs, who reported information through the COVID Symptom Study smartphone application beginning on March 24 (United Kingdom, U.K.) and March 29 (United States, U.S.) through April 23, 2020. We used Cox proportional hazards modeling to estimate multivariate-adjusted hazard ratios (aHRs) of a positive COVID-19 test.

Findings: Among 2,035,395 community individuals and 99,795 frontline HCWs, we documented 5,545 incident reports of a positive COVID-19 test over 34,435,272 person-days. Compared with the general community, frontline HCWs had an aHR of 11·6 (95% CI: 10·9 to 12·3) for reporting a positive test. The corresponding aHR was 3·40 (95% CI: 3·37 to 3·43) using an inverse probability weighted Cox model adjusting for the likelihood of receiving a test. A symptom-based classifier of predicted COVID-19 yielded similar risk estimates. Compared with HCWs reporting adequate PPE, the aHRs for reporting a positive test were 1·46 (95% CI: 1·21 to 1·76) for those reporting PPE reuse and 1·31 (95% CI: 1·10 to 1·56) for reporting inadequate PPE. Compared with HCWs reporting adequate PPE who did not care for COVID-19 patients, HCWs caring for patients with documented COVID-19 had aHRs for a positive test of 4·83 (95% CI: 3·99 to 5·85) if they had adequate PPE, 5·06 (95% CI: 3·90 to 6·57) for reused PPE, and 5·91 (95% CI: 4·53 to 7·71) for inadequate PPE.

Interpretation: Frontline HCWs had a significantly increased risk of COVID-19 infection, highest among HCWs who reused PPE or had inadequate access to PPE. However, adequate supplies of PPE did not completely mitigate high-risk exposures.

Funding: Zoe Global Ltd., Wellcome Trust, EPSRC, NIHR, UK Research and Innovation, Alzheimer's Society, NIH, NIOSH, Massachusetts Consortium on Pathogen Readiness.

Publication types

  • Preprint