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Higher COVID-19 Rates Seen for First Responders

MONDAY, Nov. 2, 2020 -- The COVID-19 infection rate among first responders in New York City was 15 times greater than the rate in New York City overall between January and May, according to a letter to the editor published online Oct. 29 in ERJ Open Research.

Michael D. Weiden, M.D., from the Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY) in Brooklyn, and colleagues examined risk factors for COVID-19 diagnosis and severe COVID-19 disease (hospitalization or death) in FDNY responders. FDNY electronic medical records were used to identify 14,290 first responders (mean age, 40.4 years) who were actively employed on Jan. 3, 2020, and had received at least two pulmonary function tests between their hire date and Feb. 29, 2020.

The researchers found that between Jan. 3, 2020, and May 31, 2020, 5,175 first responders had confirmed or suspected COVID-19, and 62 were hospitalized. Three participants died in hospital, and one died at home. Younger adults (aged 18 to 44 years) had a lower rate of COVID-19-related hospitalizations and experienced no COVID-19-related deaths; however, they did have an elevated infection rate (405.3 per 1,000 versus 362.1 per 1,000 overall). EMS providers had more cases of severe COVID-19 than firefighters (1.2 versus 0.19 percent). When adjusting for confounding variables, EMS providers had 4.23-fold increased odds of severe disease versus firefighters. EMS providers only had a modest increase in odds of confirmed COVID-19. There was an association seen between a greater rate of forced expiratory volume in one second decline prior to Jan. 3 and severe COVID-19; this association was not seen for confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection. Ever smokers did not have increased odds of severe or confirmed COVID-19 versus never smokers. Older age, higher body mass index or blood glucose level, and non-White race were independent risk factors for severe COVID-19.

"Between Jan. 3, 2020, and May 31, 2020, we observed that the COVID-19 infection rate among FDNY responders was 362 per 1,000 -- 15 times the NYC rate," the authors write.

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Posted: November 2020

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