How Workplace COVID-19 Outbreaks Affect Workers of Color | Occupational Health | JAMA | JAMA Network
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News From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
October 13, 2020

How Workplace COVID-19 Outbreaks Affect Workers of Color

JAMA. 2020;324(14):1387. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.18607

Almost three-quarters of the people in Utah who acquired coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) at work earlier this year were Hispanic or non-White, even though they make up only about a quarter of the state’s workforce, according to a recent analysis.

Investigators examined the state’s workplace-associated outbreaks that occurred between March 6 and June 5 to assess which industries and workers were most heavily affected. Outbreaks associated with health care, educational, or congregate living settings such as prisons were excluded. The data showed that 58% of cases linked to workplace outbreaks occurred in 3 industries: manufacturing, construction, and wholesale trade.

“Systemic social inequities have resulted in the overrepresentation of Hispanic and [non-White] workers in frontline occupations where exposure to SARS-CoV-2 [severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2], the virus that causes COVID-19, might be higher,” the authors wrote. They noted that extra vigilance in these sectors is needed to ensure that worker protections are applied equitably and effectively for people of color who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

For example, the authors noted that workers of color are less likely than their White counterparts to have flexible schedules or the opportunity to work remotely. Additionally, having no paid sick leave or punitive leave policies may prevent frontline workers from staying home or seeking medical care when they’re ill. Along with greater equity in workplace protections, the authors wrote that workers also need culturally and linguistically appropriate COVID-19 information.

Results from a separate study showed that in 79 counties identified as hotspots in 22 states, 96% of those counties reported disparities in COVID-19 cases in at least 1 racial or ethnic minority group.