WebMD News Brief

COVID Hits Health Care Workers of Color Hardest

photo of doctor patient consultation

August 10, 2020 -- Healthcare workers of color are twice as likely as their white peers and five times as likely as the general public to test positive for the coronavirus, according to a new study published in the journal The Lancet.

They’re also more likely to care for patients with COVID-19 and more likely to report inadequate protective gear, said the researchers from Harvard Medical School and King’s College London.

“If you think to yourself, ‘Healthcare workers should be on equal footing in the workplace,’ our study really showed that’s definitely not the case,” Andrew Chan, MD, the senior study author and an epidemiologist at Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital, told The Guardian.

Chan and colleagues analyzed data from the COVID Symptom Study app. They looked at 2 million users from the U.S. and UK between March 24 through April 23, including nearly 100,000 frontline healthcare workers, to understand the risks for those who are treating patients.

They found that the prevalence of COVID-19 was 2,747 cases per 100,000 health care workers as compared with 242 cases among 100,000 people in the overall community. At that time, the highest infection rates were in New York, New Jersey, Louisiana, and London. About 20% of healthcare workers reported at least one symptom associated with COVID-19, such as fatigue, loss of smell or taste and a hoarse voice.

Black, Asian and other minority healthcare workers faced “substantially greater” risks for contracting COVID-19, the authors wrote. Those who reported inadequate protective gear faced an even higher risk.

“Ensuring the adequate allocation of PPE is important to alleviate structural inequities in COVID-19 risk,” the authors wrote.

The findings are similar to previous studies that indicate minority healthcare workers are more likely to care for minority patients in their communities, potentially in facilities that may also have fewer resources.

“I’m not surprised by these findings, but I’m disappointed by the result,” Utibe Essien, MD, a doctor who studies health equities in the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, told the news outlet.

WebMD Health News Brief Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on August 10, 2020

Sources

The Lancet, “Risk of COVID-19 among front-line health-care workers and the general community: a prospective cohort study.”

The Guardian, “Healthcare workers of color nearly twice as likely to contract Covid-19 – study.”

COVID Symptom Study, “App homepage.”

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