Tests show COVID-19 prevalence low in UW Medicine frontline


UW Medicine virology lab
Randy Carnell
The Virology team in Laboratory Medicine ran COVID-19 antibody tests for frontline healthcare workers at UW Medicine.

The UW Medicine Virology Lab announced today that antibody testing of frontline UW Medicine healthcare workers shows an approximately 3% prevalence of previous COVID-19 infection. This figure is below the rate found in the general population. These early results suggest that UW Medicine’s frontline healthcare population does not have a significantly higher risk than the population at large. The clinical antibody testing that was conducted checks blood samples for the presence of antibodies that indicate past infections of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

UW Medicine is offering antibody testing to all its employees to determine the prevalence of previous COVID-19 infection within its population of healthcare workers, compared to the prevalence in the general public. An initial phase of testing focused on frontline staff at Harborview Medical Center, UW Medical Center, Airlift Northwest and UW Neighborhood Clinics with direct exposure to COVID-19 patients. Th first set of staff tested included those working in the Emergency Department and dedicated COVID-19 intensive and acute care units. The second phase of testing included healthcare workers from regular inpatient units. UW Medicine employees who fall outside of these two groups are now being offered the test in the third phase.

“The low overall rate of past infections in workers directly interacting with and caring for COVID-19 patients is a testament to our preparedness efforts and continued commitment to keeping employees safe,” said UW Medicine’s Dr. John B. Lynch, medical director of Infection Prevention at Harborview Medical Center. “Our preventative measures included early access to testing, extensive personal protective equipment, and highly trained personnel in units specifically dedicated to COVID-19.”

Coronavirus transmission risk can be successfully mitigated if early and frequent testing and safety measures are implemented. The rapid isolation of known coronavirus cases creates a safer environment for hospital workers and patients while lowering risk to the general public they interact with outside of work.

“Our antibody testing results underscore the importance of laboratory support to be able to execute successful continued suppression of coronavirus risk,” said Dr. Keith Jerome, professor of laboratory medicine and director of UW Medicine Virology. “The partnership with clinical operations and real-time rapid laboratory testing means we were able to learn quickly about specific infections and isolate every contact associated with that case within a couple of days.”

A full analysis and comprehensive data from all three phases of testing of UW Medicine employees will be published at a future date.

Hear more from Lisa Brandenburg, president, UW Medicine Hospitals and Clinics, in the video soundbites below:

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