Antibody Tests Found Lower COVID-19 Rate Among Staff

SEATTLE, WA — UW Medicine says they’ve seen ongoing success protecting their frontline workers from the coronavirus.

Around this time last month, UW Medicine conducted a round of coronavirus tests for their whole staff and found that 5.2 percent of their front line workers had contracted the virus. To put that in perspective, at the time 10.3 percent of UW Medicine patients tested positive for the coronavirus.

Now, UW Medicine says a new round of antibody testing has found that just 3 percent of their frontline workers have ever had the virus. That’s similar to the rate in the general population, which UW is attributing to the safety precautions they and many other hospitals have been using to keep health care workers safe.

“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 Dr. John B. Lynch, Director of Infection Prevention at Harborview Medical Center.

In particular, the hospital says easy access to testing, personal protective equipment, or PPE, and extensive training have helped protect their workers.

The low test rate is not just good news for UW Medicine though: broadly it demonstrates how preventative measures can help protect frontline workers as they battle the pandemic, and it also loosely ties in to the way Washington state measures success containing the coronavirus.

The percent of positive nasal swab coronavirus tests is one of five key metrics the Washington State Department of Health uses to gauge how well the virus is being contained. The state’s goal is to lower the number of infections until 2 percent or less of coronavirus tests come back positive. Currently, about 5.9 percent of tests come back positive in Washington.

The low percentage of positive antibody tests that UW is reporting is a positive sign, even if it isn’t the exact same metric. The state’s testing rate is calculated using only results from nasal swab tests, not antibody tests like the latest UW Medicine testing round used. Antibody tests can be used to determine if a person had the virus at any point in the past, the more common swab testing only shows if the patient currently has the virus.

Still, UW Medicine says the latest round of antibody testing has been enlightening, and they hope to conduct further tests to see if they can learn more from the process.

“We have two more phases of antibody testing for our employees,” said UW Medicine Hospitals and Clinics President Lisa Brandenburg. “The next phase includes all the staff of our regular inpatient units and the third phase includes all the rest of the UW Medical Center employees. When we have all of this data, we will be collecting it and publishing it in a peer-reviewed research journal.”

This article originally appeared on the Seattle Patch