PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The first point of hospital contact for people with a possible coronavirus infection is the emergency department.

“We are still trying to figure out what is the best way for us to take care of ourselves, especially as front-line providers,” says AHN lead investigator and St. Vincent Hospital emergency medicine physician Dr. Jestin Carlson.

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Health care workers don masks, gloves, shields and gowns. Researchers want to know how well these work during an exposure. And as a group, what the pattern is of coronavirus infection among health care workers.

“When providers are involved in aerosolizing procedures, such as intubation, or if they care for a patient in cardiac arrest. So that is also considered a high-risk event for providers. And so we want to know a little bit more about what’s happening in those situations,” says Dr. Carlson.

The CDC-funded study involves the emergency department at Allegheny General Hospital.

“There are 20 sites that are involved,” Dr. Carlson says.

Staff volunteering for the study agrees to have blood tests and nasal swabs and to answer surveys about procedures and PPE.

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“Physicians, nurses, others that are involved in the emergency department, but maybe not directly involved in patient care,” says Dr. Carlson. “They are in the emergency department. So what’s their exposure like?”

They do this every other week for 12 weeks.

“The hope is after 12 weeks, we will have collected all the information that we want. It will take some time after that to run through the results and interpret it,” said Carlson.

Even though coronavirus numbers have not been huge in southwestern Pennsylvania, a national study could reflect regional trends.

“That’s part of the reason to look at it, in not only southwestern Pennsylvania but also at several other sites throughout the country,” Dr. Carlson said.

While Dr. Carlson already feels safe in the PPE he has, he recognizes the importance of studying real-life practices in a systematic way.

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“My hope is we have a better understanding of how to ensure the safety of front line providers caring for patients with coronavirus.”