Free COVID Testing for Healthcare Workers Pays Off

August 6, 2020
Frank Diamond

Northwell Health officials point out that their data showing the benefit of free testing and adequate supply of personal protective equipment come from healthcare workers who were on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City.

Testing for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and keeping healthcare workers on the frontlines safe by supplying them with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) have been among the primary focuses in fighting the pandemic. So, it’s no wonder that the largest health system in New York—Northwell Health—is touting results of data collected from more than 40,000 of its healthcare workers (HCWs) that seem to indicate that the company’s decision to offer free COVID-19 testing paid off.

In a research letter published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), investigators with Northwell Health COVID-19 Research Consortium report that 5523 (13.7%) of the 40,329 Northwell Health employees who volunteered to be tested, tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.

The study states: “The main outcome was seroprevalence. Seroprevalence with 95% confidence interval was calculated by the exact binomial technique. HCP reported demographics, primary work location, job function, direct patient care, work on a COVID or non-COVID unit, and their level of suspicion of virus exposure: ‘Do you believe you were infected with COVID-19?’”

The data come from the results of tests taken from April 20 to June 23. Northwell notes that a recent study of antibody screenings in New York State showed that 12.3% of the population had the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) antibodies.

The difference, Northwell Health officials point out, is that their test results come from HCWs who were on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City, the epicenter of the disease in the spring. As the company notes in a press release, Northwell treated more COVID-positive patients than any other health system in the nation, including about 17,000 hospitalized patients. “Accounting for those who were seen in the health system’s emergency departments, urgent care centers and physician practices, Northwell treated more than 55,000 COVID patients in total,” the company states.

Northwell expanded its capacity by 50% (2000 additional beds) to help meet the COVID surge. In addition, the company says that it helped the state “establish satellite testing facilities throughout the region, and during the entire crisis, ensured that team members always had an ample supply of personal protective equipment.”

Karina W. Davidson, PhD, MACs, a professor and senior vice president at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, Northwell’s research arm, said in the press release that “as researchers, it’s important to us to share findings from our antibody testing, and we are pleased to know that the personal protective equipment we used was successful in protecting the vast majority of our staff.”

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