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Factors Associated with Longitudinal Psychological and Physiological Stress in Health Care Workers During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Robert P Hirten, Matteo Danieletto, Lewis Tomalin, Katie Hyewon Choi, Micol Zweig, Eddye Golden, Sparshdeep Kaur, Drew Helmus, Anthony Biello, Renata Pyzik, Claudia Calcogna, Robert Freeman, Bruce E. Sands, Dennis Charney, Erwin P Bottinger, Laurie Keefer, Mayte Suarez-Farinas, Girish N Nadkarni, Zahi A. Fayad

Posted 22 Dec 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.12.21.20248593

IntroductionThe Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has resulted in psychological distress in health care workers (HCWs). There is a need to characterize which HCWs are at increased risk of psychological sequela from the pandemic. MethodsHCWs across seven hospitals in New York City were prospectively followed in an ongoing observational digital study using the custom Warrior Watch Study App. Participants wore an Apple Watch for the duration of the study measuring HRV throughout the follow up period. Surveys were obtained daily. ResultsThree hundred and sixty-one HCWs were enrolled. Multivariable analysis found New York City COVID-19 case count to be significantly associated with increased longitudinal stress (p=0.008). A non-significant decrease in stress (p=0.23) was observed following COVID-19 diagnosis, though there was a borderline significant increase following the 4-week period after a COVID-19 diagnosis via nasal PCR (p=0.05). Baseline emotional support, baseline quality of life and baseline resilience were associated with decreased longitudinal stress (p<0.001). Baseline resilience and emotional support were found to buffer against stressors, with a significant reduction in stress during the 4-week period after COVID-19 diagnosis observed only in participants in the highest tertial of emotional support and resilience (effect estimate -0.97, p=0.03; estimate -1.78, p=0.006). A significant trend between New York City COVID-19 case count and longitudinal stress was observed only in the high tertial emotional support group (estimate 1.22, p=0.005), and was borderline significant in the high and medium resilience tertials (estimate 1.29, p=0.098; estimate 1.14, p=0.09). Participants in the highest tertial of baseline emotional support and resilience had significantly reduced amplitude and acrophase of the circadian pattern of longitudinally collected heart rate variability. ConclusionOur findings demonstrate that low resilience, emotional support, and quality of life identify HCWs at risk of high perceived longitudinal stress secondary to the COVID-19 pandemic and have a distinct physiological stress profile. Assessment of HCWs for these features can identify and permit allocation of psychological support to these at-risk individuals as the COVID-19 pandemic and its psychological effects continue in this vulnerable population.

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