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MetroHealth Researchers Find First Responders Are at Low Risk of Contracting COVID-19 With PPE Use

Cleveland – A new study from researchers at The MetroHealth System shows masks and personal protective equipment appear to be highly effective in reducing risk when EMS medics care for people infected with COVID-19.

MetroHealth researchers Yasir Tarabichi, MD, and Adam Perzynski, Ph.D., conducted COVID-19 surveillance over a seven-week period with 300 first responders from Cleveland EMS and fire services.

The results showed that while about 70% of first responders had contact with patients who had COVID-19, only around 5% tested positive for the virus. Half of those who tested positive reported having no symptoms. Only one needed to seek healthcare for symptoms.

For consistent results, first responders were tested twice, with both nasal swabs and bloodwork three weeks apart to look for new infections.

"Among the more remarkable findings of our study was that despite the challenges of day-to-day work caring for, at times, very sick COVID-19 patients, first responders demonstrated a low infection rate. This suggests that our first responders are well-trained professionals committed to keeping their patients and coworkers safe,” said Dr. Perzynski, Associate Professor of Medicine at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.

MetroHealth physicians say this study supports evidence that masks and PPE work in reducing the risk of contracting the virus. At times, first responders were in enclosed spaces with COVID-19 patients and still didn’t have an increased risk when they wore appropriate protective supplies.

“Recognizing the threat of the pandemic, the first responder community rapidly adopted aggressive personal protective measures and enhanced sanitation of equipment and vehicles,” said Thomas Collins, MD, FACEP, Emergency Medicine physician at MetroHealth.

When asked, most first responders reported adequate PPE supplies and training.

Cleveland first responders place themselves at great personal risk for the patients they serve and this study highlights the importance of ensuring adequate PPE supplies and training for these essential workers,” said Dr. Tarabichi.

“They also face the same day-to-day risks at home as the rest of us and precautions like wearing a mask, avoiding large gatherings and washing your hands apply to everyone,” added Dr. Perzynski.

The results of this peer-reviewed study are published online in the journal of Pre-Hospital Emergency Care

About The MetroHealth System

The MetroHealth System, Cuyahoga County’s public health system, is honoring its commitment to create a healthier community by building a new hospital on its main campus in Cleveland. The building and the 25 acres of green space around it are catalyzing the revitalization of MetroHealth’s West Side neighborhood.

MetroHealth broke ground on its new hospital in 2019. The project is being financed with nearly $1 billion the system borrowed on its own credit after dramatically improving its finances. In the past five years, MetroHealth’s operating revenue has increased by 40% and its number of employees by 21%. Today, its staff of 8,000 provides care at MetroHealth’s four hospitals, four emergency departments and more than 20 health centers and 40 additional sites throughout Cuyahoga County. In the past year, MetroHealth has served 300,000 patients at more than 1.4 million visits in its hospitals and health centers, 75% of whom are uninsured or covered by Medicare or Medicaid.

The health system is home to Cuyahoga County’s most experienced Level I Adult Trauma Center, verified since 1992, and Ohio’s only adult and pediatric trauma and burn center.

As an academic medical center, MetroHealth is committed to teaching and research. Each active staff physician holds a faculty appointment at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. Its main campus hospital houses a Cleveland Metropolitan School District high school of science and health.

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