Hospital and nursing home staff are particularly often infected with the corona virus. Protective equipment and tests are still missing in many places.
“I only get mouth and nose protection a day”
The risk for doctors and nurses has become quiet lately. But even if there is currently a lot of debate about corona cases in the meat industry and parcel services and the number of new infections has been stable below 1000 per day for a few days: For employees in hospitals, old people’s homes or care services, the situation is far from relaxed. Since mid-April, an average of more than 230 doctors and nurses have been infected with the new coronavirus Sars-CoV-2 every day. On some days, healthcare professionals pose more than one in five Corona cases reported. Apparently, it is still not possible to protect those who work for the health of the elderly, the sick and those in need of care.
Only since mid-April has the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported the cases of medical personnel in detail in its daily situation reports – and adds that these are only “minimum information”.
“As long as we don’t know whether a patient is infected, we pretend that he isn’t,” says a doctor
According to the RKI, more than 20,000 employees from hospitals, medical practices, emergency services or nursing homes have so far been infected with the corona virus, which means that they represent around eleven percent of all infected people. 894 people from the health sector had to be treated in hospital, at least 60 have already died from Covid-19.
The public recently had the impression that everything was under control in medical facilities. You no longer saw pictures of politicians receiving face masks at airports, almost every company now feels that they are also producing mouth-nose protection. However, insufficient materials continue to arrive in the hospitals. A few days ago, in a survey conducted by the Marburger Bund medical association, 38 percent of those surveyed said that they lacked protective equipment. Respiratory masks with fine particle filters (FFP2 and FFP3) are therefore missing, as are gowns, protective glasses, visors, gloves and even simple surgical masks. The German Professional Association for Nursing Professions shares similar experiences: “It is still reported from many institutions that FFP2 and FFP3 masks are scarce,” said its spokeswoman Johanna Knüppel.
Given this situation, many doctors are concerned about their health. “I only get mouth and nose protection a day,” said an anesthetist from a university hospital who wanted to remain anonymous, told the SZ. The same applies to the FFP2 mask, which is required to ventilate patients in the intensive care unit or for anesthesia. Because placing the breathing tube is considered a particular risk of infection, since the corona viruses are found in large numbers in the pharynx. “I am required to wear this one mask all day,” says the anesthetist, “I don’t feel comfortable with it.” A change of mask is only planned at his clinic if the doctor has treated a patient who has been proven to be infected with Sars-CoV-2. “As long as we don’t know if the patient is infected, we pretend that he isn’t.”
However, it is not only the missing material that is to blame for the many infections in clinics and homes. “The virus was able to spread in some facilities because they were not able to separate structural areas well,” says Johanna Knüppel. In addition, the staff ceiling often does not make it possible to strictly separate infected and non-infected areas. “Three layers always have to be covered.”
Not all hospital employees infected with Sars-CoV-2 necessarily got infected during their work, as Oliver Keppler from the Max von Pettenkofer Institute at the University of Munich found. He examined transmission chains in the hospital by analyzing the genetic relationship of the viruses. This indicates that many hospital employees were infected in private settings at least in March and then infected themselves among themselves rather than Covid 19 patients in the clinic. “Fortunately, these transmissions have drastically decreased over the past few weeks,” said Keppler. He calls for further studies to shed light on the transmission routes in the health sector and to identify possible risk constellations. “Then we can improve the preventive measures again if necessary,” says the virologist.
What is certain is that the situation in the clinics and homes is still not widely known. This is suggested by data from the Thuringian district of Greiz, which was recently declared a Corona hotspot. The reason for the many new infections, according to District Administrator Martina Schweinsburg: mass tests in medical facilities in which a large number of corona cases came to light. In contrast, there are currently no nationwide test strategies for risk groups. According to its own information, the RKI has no data on the extent to which testing is carried out in clinics and homes.
The Marburger Bund therefore calls for the infected in the health care facilities to be systematically recorded through extensive tests – ideally differentiated by occupational group. “We have to test much more often so we can protect infected workers and patients alike,” said Susanne Johna, chairwoman. After all, there is probably nowhere more than when dealing with patients and those in need of care: those who are infected should no longer come to work.