B.C. residents know that health professionals and others working in health care have been risking their mental and physical wellbeing – even their lives – for the past five months.

Newly obtained data provided to me shows just how many have tested positive because of their exposure to the coronavirus in hospitals, other health care settings, and the communities where they live.

More than 660 health care professionals and other workers in health care have gotten COVID-19 as of a few days ago when the information was compiled by the BC Centre for Disease Control. Infections in nurses, physicians, dentists, and other health system workers account for about 25% of all COVID-19 cases in B.C.

Health care workers (HCW) are not getting COVID infections only at work but the data doesn’t delineate between occupational and community-acquired cases. There have been 219 laboratory-confirmed tests among staff in long term care facilities. Outbreaks began in such facilities when infectious staff brought them in, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has previously said.

Nurses (registered and licensed practical nurses), who make up the largest segment of health care professionals in this province, account for just over 20% of the coronavirus cases among health care workers in B.C. The data shows that as of June 8, 136 nurses had been infected. There are over 45,000 nurses in B.C. which means that the infection rate among nurses is 0.30%. Nurses account for about five per cent of the total number of positive tests done in B.C.

Christine Sorensen, president of the B.C. Nurses Union said in an email:

“The heartbreaking reality is that there are nurses and health care workers in British Columbia who have been infected with the virus while performing their duty to care for patients.

“Nurses are professionals but they are not expendable. With insufficient access to personal protective equipment, many are also managing elevated stress and anxiety right now. They are concerned for their patients, and for their own safety. Nurses have very real concerns about exposing family and loved ones to the virus – there is little opportunity to just go home and relax at the end of a very long workday.

“I am concerned for our nurses, who are often pulled between their personal and professional responsibilities. Many are already making incredible sacrifices during this unprecedented time to stay safe and healthy in order to continue caring for British Columbians.”

The BCCDC information shows that nearly 100 care aides, almost 70 dental professionals, and 35 physicians have also gotten the virus. The data below includes those in roles other than direct patient care because they work in hospitals and other health care institutions; my request for information was for all COVID-19 cases among those who work in health care settings.

When I last reported the number of COVID cases amongst health care workers in late April, the case count was 428 and health care workers represented 21% of cases. So both the number and proportion have grown.

Perhaps the most surprisingly high number – 67 – pertains to dentists. They account for just over 10 per cent of cases. Several dentists got COVID-19 after attending an ill-timed dental conference in Vancouver; one North Vancouver dentist died from coronavirus two weeks later. The infections that occurred at the conference weren’t limited to dentists; exhibitors, members of the public, and dental office staff also contracted COVID-19.

In Alberta, health experts have done a fair amount of work on the matter of COVID-19 infections in health care workers. On May 4, when this detailed report was published, there were 137 cases of COVID-19 among HCW in Alberta and the risk for them was considered to be lower than the risk in the general population. It should be pointed out, however, that testing is done five times more often in HCW than in the general population, according to the Alberta report.

Twitter: @MedicineMatters