COVID-19: Largest study on US healthcare workers launched

Researchers will track 850 hospital workers to determine who gets infected and who develops immunity

COVID-19: Largest study on US healthcare workers launched

Rutgers University is pioneering the largest US health-sector study of COVID-19, zeroing in on exposure and infection rates among hospital staff.

More than 7,000 health professionals work for Rutgers in New Jersey. Out of this number, 850 healthcare and non-healthcare workers from two university hospitals volunteered for the study.

The workers will be tested for COVID-19 using a saliva-based procedure developed by Rutgers and newly approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for emergency use.

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Researchers will monitor test subjects for six months to “prospectively determine” the likelihood of contracting the disease among workers who have regular and direct exposure to patients and those who do not. 

“The point of the study is to determine the proportion of the workforce who will get infected. Such information is critically important in determining who gets infected and their susceptibility characteristics for infection,” the university said.

The study will also evaluate whether certain workers will develop immunity against the pathogen and whether they could serve as first responders amid the outbreak.

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“Because the pandemic is affecting our hospitals as we are providing care at the front line, we may be able to discover what puts people at greatest risk for acquiring the infection and possibly determine why most get mild illness but some become severely ill,” said Martin J. Blaser, director of Rutgers’ Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine.

Two clinical trials will be conducted as part of the research: one for symptomatic COVID-19 patients and another for those who are confirmed positive but are asymptomatic.

“Our hope is that this study and other scientific developments can give state, national and global leaders the evidence-based tools to ultimately end this pandemic,” said Brian Strom, chancellor of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, which is coordinating the study.

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