Study Finds Reduced Risk of Pediatric Emergency Dept COVID-19 Infection

ORANGE (CNS) - Asymptomatic health care professionals who work in a pediatric emergency department in a community with a low prevalence of COVID-19 and who undergo daily health screenings are not likely to be carriers of the virus, according to a CHOC Children's study released today.

According to a CHOC statement, findings of the study, “one of the first of its kind and conducted during California's projected peak of coronavirus-related use of hospital resources, shine an encouraging light'' on a topic where there is currently limited data available.

CHOC Children's study tested staff who interact with patients at its Julia and George Argyros Emergency Department during a two-week period in April 2020, using a Polymerase chain reaction test for COVID-19 viral RNA.

Subjects were asymptomatic and had no fever, as all employees undergo daily pre-shift health and temperature screenings prior to entering the hospital. Testing found one of 145 subjects was positive for COVID-19, and contact tracing showed that individual was not responsible for any further transmission of infection, according to CHOC.

The findings indicate that strict screening measures in a hospital serving a community with a lower prevalence of COVID-19 are effective in preventing the spread of the disease, according to study co-investigator Dr. Terence Sanger, CHOC's vice president of research and chief scientific officer.

“We are encouraged by the results of the study and trust that our community will be reassured to know that the chances of acquiring COVID-19 during a visit to a pediatric emergency department can be lower than during routine activities,'' Sanger said. “We continue to urge them to seek prompt expert care for themselves and their children when the need arises.''

Hospitals nationwide have reported a significant drop in emergency department visits for major acute conditions. Patients may seek medical attention too late for adequate treatment, which could have serious, even fatal, consequences, according to physicians.

Preliminary data suggest that while health care workers represent 10% of all known COVID-19 cases in the state, only 18% of those cases were known to be acquired in a health care setting, according to CHOC.

The low rate of infection in CHOC's emergency department could be attributed to many factors, including the lower percentage of infection in the surrounding community, as well as people in the community following safety guidelines including social distancing and wearing masks, according to Sanger.

Additionally, health care workers in a pediatric setting might be expected to have a lower risk of infection than those in an adult health care setting due to a lower rate of high-risk aerosolization procedures such as intubation in younger patients.

“We take every precaution we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in CHOC care settings,'' said Dr. Theodore Heyming, medical director of CHOC's emergency department and the study co-investigator. “While the effects of the coronavirus continue to be devastating, this report offers a ray of hope that brave healthcare workers can continue to administer care to their patients without the added burden of putting themselves or the people they care for at further unnecessary risk.''

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