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Three Harvard Teaching Hospitals Report High Numbers of Coronavirus-Infected Employees

As the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. rises, employees of Harvard hospitals have reported testing positive in increasing numbers.
As the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. rises, employees of Harvard hospitals have reported testing positive in increasing numbers. By Naomi S. Castellon-Perez
By Virginia L. Ma, Crimson Staff Writer

Three Harvard Medical School teaching hospitals — Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Massachusetts General Hospital — have reported high numbers of coronavirus cases among employees.

The growing number of infected employees comes as hospitals’ resources — including their corps of healthcare workers — are stretched thin by the novel coronavirus pandemic, which continues to grow in Massachusetts and across the United States.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 115 employees at Brigham and Women’s had tested positive, according to the hospital’s COVID-19 webpage. In addition, the hospital is currently housing 43 COVID-19 inpatients, 17 of whom require intensive care. There are also 28 admitted patients under investigation for potential coronavirus infection.

In a media statement posted online on March 26, Brigham and Women’s wrote that the hospital expected a high number of reported cases among its employee population, since health care workers are “among the groups prioritized for COVID-19 testing at the Brigham.”

“The percent of health care workers tested who are positive for COVID-19 at the Brigham is 50% less than the positivity rate of the general population that has been tested,” the statement reads.

The statement also notes that workplace exposure caused infection for only “a very small percentage” of the employee cases.

“Overall, transmission between colleagues or from patient to provider remains rare,” according to the statement.

According to Beth Israel spokesperson Lindsey A. Diaz-MacInnis, 82 employees had tested positive for the virus as of Wednesday morning, up 20 cases from Monday afternoon.

Massachusetts General Hospital, meanwhile, reported on its website that 135 employees — including both clinical and non-clinical staff — had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Wednesday morning.

The hospital also reported 139 confirmed COVID-19 cases in its inpatient and emergency departments, with 49 patients requiring ICU care. There are 89 admitted patients at the hospital with tests for COVID-19 pending.

Like the statement issued by Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the MGH report also points out that most of its infected employees likely did not contract the virus at work.

“Based on hospital data, our broad implementation of CDC-guided infection control procedures throughout the hospital and the extent of community spread now ongoing in Massachusetts, it is believed that the vast majority of these individuals did not contract the virus at work,” MGH’s statement reads.

Though the hospitals believe most of their employee cases were not due to workplace transmission, Brigham and Women’s said it has begun implementing stricter protective measures as a result.

“In response to the few cases that were [the result of workplace exposure], we’ve intensified our PPE standards and have recently moved to a universal masking strategy,” an online statement from Brigham and Women’s reads.

—Staff writer Virginia L. Ma can be reached at virginia.ma@thecrimson.com.

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HealthHarvard Medical SchoolFront FeatureCoronavirus