A new study has found that workers in critical occupations suffered a greater excess mortality rate (EMR) during the COVID-19 pandemic than other workers.
EMR is defined as deaths beyond those expected during usual circumstances.
Some critical occupations had higher EMR than others
Researchers at the University of Minnesota found, for example, that the 2021 EMR for workers in food processing, which is a critical infrastructure sector, was 9.6 per 10,000 workers compared to 1.9 per 10,000 for workers outside critical occupations.
Some critical occupations, like transportation and construction, experienced higher EMR than other critical occupations, such as health care and agriculture.
Workers of color experienced higher EMR than white workers, according to the study. That was particularly true in food processing, food service, construction, retail, and transportation and logistics. The EMR for people of color was 4.6 in 2020 and 5.6 in 2021 compared to white workers at 2.7 and 4.4, respectively.
‘Vaccine eligibility system didn’t prioritize vulnerable workers’
Minnesota’s system of vaccine eligibility was also looked at by researchers. This system was designed to get limited supplies of the vaccine to workers with the greatest risk of death. It prioritized health care and child care workers. However, the study’s findings “suggest this system insufficiently prioritized some vulnerable groups of workers.”
For example, retail and food processing workers were included in later vaccine phases and experienced a higher EMR than the workers included in the early phases of the vaccine rollout.
Researchers believe that the study also suggests:
- adoption of additional measures to improve vaccine prioritization for higher-risk workers, and
- identifying and widely implementing workplace precautions that health care facilities adopted during the pandemic to better protect workers in all industries.
Death certificates, employment rates from 2017 to 2021 studied
The study examined the “occupational risk associated with COVID-19 among those working in areas essential to continued critical infrastructure operations as defined by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.”
This included workers in:
- health care
- emergency response
- child care
- K-12 schools
- food processing and agriculture
- food service
- transportation and logistics
- public transit
- airport and postal service, and
- some categories of manufacturing, construction and retail.
To conduct the study, researchers examined death certificates and employment rates in Minnesota from 2017 through 2021. Then they estimated the EMR for critical occupations in 2020 and 2021. Researchers further detailed the rates by different racial groups and vaccine rollout phases.