Protecting first-line health care providers against work-related coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infection at the onset of the pandemic has been a crucial challenge in the United States. Anesthesiologists in particular are considered at risk, since aerosol-generating procedures, such as intubation and extubation, have been shown to significantly increase the odds for respiratory infections during severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreaks. This study assessed the incidence of COVID-19–like symptoms and the presence of COVID-19 antibodies after work-related COVID-19 exposures, among physicians working in a large academic hospital in New York City (NYC).
An e-mail survey was addressed to anesthesiologists and affiliated intensive care providers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center on April 15, 2020. The survey assessed 4 domains: (1) demographics and medical history, (2) community exposure to COVID-19 (eg, use of NYC subway), (3) work-related exposure to COVID-19, and (4) development of COVID-19–like symptoms after work exposure. The first 100 survey responders were invited to undergo a blood test to assess antibody status (presence of immunoglobulin M [IgM]/immunoglobulin G [IgG] specific to COVID-19). Work-related exposure was defined as any episode where the provider was not wearing adequate personal protective equipment (airborne or droplet/contact protection depending on the exposure type). Based on the clinical scenario, work exposure was categorized as high risk (eg, exposure during intubation) or low risk (eg, exposure during doffing).
Two hundred and five health care providers were contacted and 105 completed the survey (51%); 91 completed the serological test. Sixty-one of the respondents (58%) reported at least 1 work-related exposure and 54% of the exposures were high risk. Among respondents reporting a work-related exposure, 16 (26.2%) reported postexposure COVID-19–like symptoms. The most frequent symptoms were myalgia (9 cases), diarrhea (8 cases), fever (7 cases), and sore throat (7 cases). COVID-19 antibodies were detected in 11 of the 91 tested respondents (12.1%), with no difference between respondents with (11.8%) or without (12.5%) a work-related exposure, including high-risk exposure. Compared with antibody-negative respondents, antibody-positive respondents were more likely to use NYC subway to commute to work and report COVID-19–like symptoms in the past 90 days.
In the epicenter of the United States’ pandemic and within 6–8 weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak, a small proportion of anesthesiologists and affiliated intensive care providers reported COVID-19–like symptoms after a work-related exposure and even fewer had detectable COVID-19 antibodies. The presence of COVID-19 antibodies appeared to be associated with community/environmental transmission rather than secondary to work-related exposures involving high-risk procedures.