New research reveals that production, maintenance, construction, healthcare support and food preparation workers had the highest levels of infection early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) study was conducted before the introduction of vaccines so the results weren’t influenced by differences in vaccination rates between occupational groups.
NIOSH researchers conducted an online survey – administered by the Delphi Group at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University – from Sept. 8 through Nov. 30, 2020. Almost three million U.S. adults responded to the survey via a Facebook banner, according to NIOSH.
The survey identified those who had worked for pay outside the home in the previous four weeks and had ever tested positive for COVID-19.
According to the study, the five general occupational groups with the highest test positivity were in:
- production (16.7%)
- building and grounds, cleaning, and maintenance (15.5%)
- construction and extraction (15%)
- healthcare support (14.9%), and
- food preparation and serving (14.4%).
In detailed occupational categories, the six highest percentages of positive tests were for:
- massage therapist (28.6%)
- food-processing worker (24.2%)
- bailiff and correctional officer (23.7%)
- funeral service worker (21.6%)
- first-line supervisor of production and operating workers (19.1%), and
- nursing assistant or psychiatric aide (19.1%).
In these jobs, the rate of positive tests ranged from around one in three to one in five workers. The differences persisted even after controlling for additional factors such as age, gender and other medical issues.
Many of the general and detailed occupations require:
- working in close physical proximity indoors or outdoors, or
- interacting with the public.
These occupations also have high proportions of Black or Hispanic workers who have experienced a higher risk of COVID-19 and severe illness, according to the report.
The report states that these findings are consistent with a number of previously published findings on COVID-19 occurrences in healthcare workers and outbreaks in meat and poultry processing workers, correctional facility staff, and construction workers.
More information from NIOSH on COVID-19 in the workplace can be found here.