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Study looks at how well PPE protected ER workers from COVID-19

ER nurse
Photo: Tempura/iStockphoto

Birmingham, AL — A recent study of health care workers in U.S. ERs shows masks, gloves, gowns and other personal protective equipment were highly effective at shielding them from infection during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and multiple universities followed nearly 1,700 physicians, nurses, advanced practice providers and nonclinical staff at 20 health care facilities between May and December 2020. More than 4,400 high-risk aerosolizing intubations of patients were performed during that time. Participants completed surveys and were tested for COVID-19 and antibodies.

Results show 4.5% of the participants tested positive for COVID-19. The most prominent reasons associated with infection were community exposures, mask use in public and hospital case counts. Other risks included commuting, being in a hospital environment where physical distancing is difficult and PPE shortages, which were reported at most of the facilities.


“This study does provide reassurance to health care professionals that, with the proper precautions, they can be relatively safe while treating patients in the emergency medicine setting,” study co-author Walter Schrading, professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine in the Heersink School of Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said in a press release. “When (COVID-19) case counts are high in the community, health care personnel should take precautions outside the hospital just as they do inside the hospital when they are working.”

The study was published online the journal PLOS ONE.

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