Staff SARS-CoV-2 Seroprevalence and Mental Health as Key Factors in University Response to COVID-19 Pandemic.Front Public Health. 2021; 9:689919.FP
Background: In response to rapid global spread of the newly emerged coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), universities transitioned to online learning and telework to decrease risks of inter-person contact. To help administrators respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and better understand its impacts, we surveyed SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence among NOVA University employees and assessed community mental health. Methods: Data were collected from voluntary participants at six NOVA University locations, in the Lisbon metropolitan area, from June 15-30, 2020. All subjects provided written informed consent. Of 1,627 recruited participants (mean age 42.0 ± 12.3 years), 1,624 were tested. Prior to blood collection, participants completed a questionnaire that assessed: COVID-19 symptoms during the previous 14 days, chronic non-communicable diseases, chronic medication, anxiety, and depression symptoms. SARS-CoV-2 serology tests were then performed, and results communicated approximately 4 days after blood draw. Participants with positive serology tests were contacted to assess COVID-19 symptoms since February. Results: Estimated prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 IgG antibodies was 3.1% (n = 50), of which 43.5% reported symptoms in the previous 4 months. The Medical School had the highest seroprevalence (6.2%). Participants reported having at least one chronic disease (63.7%), depression-like symptoms (2.1%), and anxiety symptoms (8.1%). Rates of depression and anxiety symptoms were significantly higher in women, with sleep hours and occasional alcohol consumption negatively associated with depression. Male gender, older age, and sleep hours negatively associated with anxiety symptoms. School of employment and presence of comorbidities positively associated with anxiety. Conclusion: By measuring seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies among NOVA employees and assessing subjects' mental health, we aim to help administrators at European public universities in urban areas, such as Lisbon, Portugal, better understand the needs of their communities. This study resulted in implementation of a stricter contingency plan in the Medical School, while other schools continued to follow Government mitigation guidelines. These findings may also guide the development of tailored strategies to ensure physical and mental health of the academic community during this pandemic crisis. We conclude that, together with COVID-19 contingency plans, psychological support services and facilities to help people effectively face pandemic-associated challenges and minimise anxiety and depression should be implemented.