To address this, a month ago, two clinics were opened at the Royal Melbourne Hospital to screen for health workers who had developed fever or new respiratory symptoms.
One of them selected the staff of the RMH as well as the staff of neighboring hospitals. The other, a public clinic, looked at health workers practicing in the wider community.
In the past four weeks, 1160 symptomatic staff have been assessed in the staff clinic. Most have been swabbed for COVID-19. A number of health workers visited the public clinic.
In both clinics, 11 health workers tested positive for COVID-19. Of these, eight had a history of travel or close contact with a case of COVID-19 in the community.
The other three had no obvious contact with COVID-19 in the workplace during a period when fewer than 10 COVID-19 patients were being treated at RMH.
Two of the three had not worked in a clinical hospital and were found to be at low risk of acquiring an infection from a sick patient at their workplace.
The third worked in a hospital ward where no known COVID-19 patient had been cared for.
While a dedicated service for testing and staff support may not be feasible in all settings, the letter’s authors say it provides access to rapid testing, which reassures staff.
It is estimated that 9.3 percent of adults in Victoria identify as health workers. According to the authors, this provides some context to the statewide data, suggesting that 10% of positive cases to date have occurred in health workers.
“Our data shows that currently, community acquisition of COVID-19 is likely to occur in healthcare workers more often than work-related acquisition,” the letter said.
While stressing that they don’t want to trivialize the risk to frontline staff, the authors suggest they should focus on taking steps to protect themselves from COVID-19 when they are away from work.
Continuous monitoring can help provide information about local risks to health workers.