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COVID-19 dashboard reassures front-line workers

September 9, 2020

Dr. Robyn Harrison and others from across AHS — including people from Workplace Health, and Safety and IT — joined together to create the AHS Healthcare Worker COVID-19 Testing Dashboard, which gathers valuable data to promote pandemic safety.

Dr. Robyn Harrison and others from across AHS — including people from Workplace Health, and Safety and IT — joined together to create the AHS Healthcare Worker COVID-19 Testing Dashboard, which gathers valuable data to promote pandemic safety.

"The dashboard is just one way that AHS is helping its front-line workers feel comfortable going to work, even during the pandemic," says Dr. Stephen Tsekrekos, the medical director for AHS Workplace Health and Safety.

Data shows AHS workplaces much safer than expected

Story by Shelley Boettcher | Photos by Evan Isbister & Leah Hennel

As soon as the COVID-19 pandemic began, many at Alberta Health Services (AHS) began to look at trends across the world. In the pandemic’s early days, numbers from other countries indicated healthcare workers faced a particularly high risk of infection.

With that in mind, Dr. Robyn Harrison and others from across AHS, including people from Workplace Health, and Safety and IT joined together to create the AHS Healthcare Worker COVID-19 Testing Dashboard. They planned to capture, analyze and share valuable data that would help keep provincial healthcare workers safe on the job.

What they found is that, since testing began, most AHS staff who have tested positive for COVID-19 are deemed to have been exposed outside the workplace.

The first confirmed COVID-19 case in Alberta came on March 5. By mid-August, 41,677 AHS, Covenant Health and Alberta Public Laboratories healthcare workers had been tested. Of those, 345 (0.83 per cent) tested positive for COVID-19; but only 63 of those cases (18.3 per cent) were deemed to be from AHS, Covenant or APL workplace transmission.

“With the prevention measures that we have in place, AHS workplaces are safer than many may have expected,” says Harrison, an AHS physician in Edmonton specializing in infectious diseases.

“The greatest risk for our healthcare workers is outside of the workplace.” The dashboard is just one way that AHS is helping its front-line workers feel comfortable going to work, even during the pandemic, says Dr. Stephen Tsekrekos, the medical director for AHS Workplace Health and Safety.

“It’s about sharing open, transparent and accurate information about the risks to staff, and how they can stay safe,” he says.

“This information is important because our front-line healthcare workers are the ones caring for COVID-19 patients, and we need to understand where the risks are.”

One advantage for AHS is that it’s a provincial system. “The fact that we’re provincially integrated gives us great potential to harness large amounts of data and then to link that data,” says Tsekrekos. Harrison agrees. “We knew we could report from Day 1 how many healthcare workers were getting tested,” she adds.

While the results so far are reassuring, they do underline one thing: caution is still necessary as the province continues its relaunch.

“It reminds us that we need to be vigilant,” Harrison says. “It really highlights the importance of checking oneself for COVID-19 symptoms every day, and choosing to stay home and get tested when you have a symptom.”

There are no plans to stop the dashboard until the end of the pandemic, Tsekrekos adds. “It’s important to continue to track and maintain this information,” he says. “We intend to keep it going until we no longer have to worry about COVID-19.”

Both are quick to acknowledge that there are many, many others involved in the dashboard project.

“This is truly a team effort,” Harrison says. “This project reflects partnerships that have been carefully built over the past decade in Alberta. We are fortunate, and I am proud of the team and the work that we are doing.”