WASHINGTON: Researchers from the University of Washington have estimated that 14.4 million workers face exposure to COVID-19 infection once a week and 26.7 million at least once a month at the workplace.
Tens of millions of employees in the across the country are thought to be exposed to the disease at work at least once a week, revealed the study published in the journal PLOS ONE.
“Our findings serve as an important reminder that the workplace should be a focus for public health intervention, especially during disease outbreaks such as COVID-19,” said study author Marissa Baker, Assistant Professor in the UW School of Public Health.
Using federal employment data, the researchers determined 10 per cent (14,425,070) of US workers are employed in occupations where exposure to disease or infection happens at least weekly, based on employee and employer self-report.
According to the study, 18.4 per cent (26,669,810) of US workers are employed in occupations where exposure to disease or infection happens at least monthly, based on employee and employer self-report.
While healthcare occupations represent the bulk of workers exposed to infection and disease, other occupations that frequently interface with the public and provide essential services are also at increased risk of exposure, the researchers said.
Those include police officers, firefighters, childcare workers, and personal care aides.
Some workers who are in higher-paying and more secure jobs, often salaried, can work from home or afford more time away from work, but many don’t have these same options, such as workers who participate in the gig economy or are independent contractors and are typically not considered employees.
These workers don’t benefit from employee protective policies, such as sick leave, putting them at increased risk of having to work when they or a loved one is sick, despite public health guidance.
Even if a worker does have paid sick leave, and knows how to access it, a variety of other real and perceived pressures — such as an economy that rewards people who are working hard at all times, or pressure to perform work that no one else can perform, encourages workers to come to work sick, a phenomena researchers term “presenteeism.”
“Estimating the burden of US workers exposed to infection or disease is a key factor in containing the risk of COVID-19 infection,” said Baker.
This latest research comes as the country currently accounts for the highest number of coronavirus cases, as well as deaths in the world.
As of Friday morning, the cases increased to 1,069,424, with 63,006 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University. New York state, the epicentre of the pandemic in the US, reported over 300,000 COVID-19 cases by Thursday, with over 160,000 in New York City.
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