COVID death rate 5 times higher among store and service workers


Delivery workers and other essential workers need better protection during the COVID-19 crisis. A new study found that in 2020, COVID-19 death rates were five times higher among retail and service workers.


Most of the working-age Americans who died from COVID-19 during the first year of the pandemic were so-called essential workers in labor, service and retail jobs that required on-site presence and extended contact with others, according to a recently published study led. by a University of South Florida epidemiologist.

The study looks back at deaths from COVID-19 in 2020 and confirms what many already knew or suspected: that Americans who couldn’t work from home and who worked in low-paying jobs with little or no benefits, such as paid sick leave and health insurance coverage, bear the brunt. of deaths during the first year of the pandemic, said Jason Salemi, an associate professor in the USF’s College of Public Health and a co-author of the study.

Salemi said the finding, while perhaps expected, left him with two takeaways: that essential workers need more protection during an infectious disease pandemic, and that society’s desire to “return to normal” will mean different things to different people. mean – with unjust consequences.

“When I say I want things to go back to normal, I’m in an advantage,” Salemi said. “I can work from home most days. I have access to a GP and paid sick leave. There are people in this study for whom that may not be the case.”

To conduct the study, Salemi and colleagues analyzed nearly 70,000 death certificates for people aged 25 to 64 who had died from COVID-19 in 2020, nearly all of which occurred before the first vaccine was approved in December of that year.

But death certificates don’t always include a deceased person’s occupation, Salemi said. Instead, researchers used education level, which is listed on all death certificates, as a measure of a person’s socioeconomic position. No education outside of high school was “low,” while some of the college education was “average” and anyone with at least a bachelor’s degree was “high.”

Researchers then used US Census data on adult occupations in 2020 to calculate remote work capability for the different groups, which were further broken down by race, ethnicity, gender and age.

READ MORE: New Data Shows South Florida Is At Higher Risk Of Transmission Of COVID

COVID death rates higher for lower-income Hispanic men

The study found:

The death rate of adults with a low socioeconomic position – those whose educational attainment did not exceed a high school diploma – was five times higher compared to adults with a high socioeconomic position, and the death rate of adults with an average socioeconomic position was twice higher.

White women made up the largest population group considered to have high socioeconomic status. By comparison, nearly 60% of Hispanic men were in a low socio-economic position.

The death rate of Hispanic men with a low socioeconomic position was 27 times higher than white women with a high socioeconomic position.

Salemi said the finding that stood out to him was that among all 25- to 64-year-old adults in 2020, about one-third of the workforce were people with low socioeconomic status, but two-thirds of COVID-19 deaths were for the same age group.

Analysis of the COVID deaths of Americans of working age

As of 2020, nearly 250,000 Americans of working age have died from COVID-19, Salemi said, although he doesn’t know if the same death pattern continued in 2021 and 2022. Researchers also plan to analyze those deaths to help public health officials, and lawmakers are developing strategies to better protect service and retail workers.

But with new cases rising again, and three in four Florida counties now at “high” community levels of COVID-19, Salemi said, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this research could help motivate federal agencies, such as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, to make recommendations to reduce the spread of infectious diseases among workers.

“We really need strong workplace protection against airborne pathogens,” he said. “It should go beyond ‘wear a well-fitting mask in certain situations’…. Employers can do a lot to protect people. But even community members, and those of us lucky enough to work from home, the more we can reduce the spread of the virus in the community, the more we can protect people in these firing positions.”

This story was originally published June 4, 2022 6:00 a.m.

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Daniel Chang covers health care for the Miami Herald, where he works to unravel the often irrational world of health insurance, hospitals, and health policies for readers.

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