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COVID-19 in health care workers, Australia 2020


Rafferty, AC and Hewitt, MC and Wright, R and Hogarth, F and Coatsworth, N and Ampt, F and Dougall, S and Alpren, C and Causer, L and Coffey, C and Wakefield, A and Campbell, S and Pingault, N and Harlock, M and Smith, KJ and Kirk, MD, COVID-19 in health care workers, Australia 2020, Communicable Diseases Intelligence, 45 pp. 1-11. ISSN 2209-6051 (2021) [Refereed Article]

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© 2021 Commonwealth of Australia as represented by the Department of Health. This publication is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- Non-Commercial NoDerivatives 4.0 International Licence from

DOI: doi:10.33321/cdi.2021.45.57



Health care workers are at increased risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection due to potential exposure to patients or staff in health care settings. Australian health care services and health care workers experienced intense pressure to prepare for and respond to SARS-CoV-2 infections. We summarise national data on health care worker infections and associated outbreaks during 2020.


We collected aggregated data on infected health care workers and outbreaks in health care facilities from all jurisdictions. Health care workers working solely in residential aged care and outbreaks in residential aged care facilities were excluded. Jurisdictions provided data on the number of health care setting outbreaks, confirmed cases, hospitalisation, source of infection, and health care worker role. We analysed data for two periods that aligned with two distinct peaks in the epidemic relative to 1 June 2020, referred to here as the first wave (23 January – 31 May 2020) and the second wave (1 June – 18 September 2020).


Jurisdictions reported a total of 2,163 health care worker infections with SARS-CoV-2 during the surveillance period. Source of acquisition was known for 81.0% of cases (1,667/2,059). The majority of cases in the first wave were acquired overseas, shifting to locally-acquired cases in the second wave. The odds of infection in the second wave compared to the first wave were higher for nurses/midwives (odds ratio, OR: 1.61; 95% confidence interval (95% CI): 1.32–2.00), lower for medical practitioners (OR: 0.36; 95% CI: 0.28–0.47) and did not differ for ‘other’ health care workers (OR: 1.07; 95% CI: 0. 87–1.32). The odds of infection in the second wave were higher in a health care setting (OR: 1.76; 95% CI: 1.28–2.41) than in the community.

There were 120 outbreaks in health care settings with 1,428 cases, of which 56.7% (809/1,428) were health care workers. The majority (88/120; 73.8%) of outbreaks in health care settings occurred in the second wave of the epidemic, with 90.9% of these (80/88) occurring in Victoria.


In the second wave of the epidemic, when there was heightened community transmission, health care workers were more likely to be infected in the workplace. Throughout the epidemic, nurses were more likely to be infected than staff in other roles.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:COVID-19, coronavirus disease 2019, SARS-CoV-2, health care workers, Australia
Research Division:Health Sciences
Research Group:Public health
Research Field:Public health not elsewhere classified
Objective Division:Health
Objective Group:Specific population health (excl. Indigenous health)
Objective Field:Occupational health
UTAS Author:Smith, KJ (Dr Kylie Smith)
ID Code:148565
Year Published:2021
Web of Science® Times Cited:2
Deposited By:Menzies Institute for Medical Research
Deposited On:2022-01-25
Last Modified:2022-03-04
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