Grocers are 20 times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 than the general population, according to a new study.
In a Boston supermarket, researchers found an infection rate of 20 percent compared to a rate of up to 1.3 percent in the local community.
The majority of employees, more than three quarters, had no symptoms such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath.
Additionally, those who dealt directly with clients such as cashiers were five times more likely to be positive than their colleges in other positions.
The team at Harvard University’s TH Chan School of Public Health says the results suggest that these key forces could be super-spreaders of the infection, without even knowing it.
At a grocery store in Boston in May, one in five workers tested positive, suggesting an infection rate of 20%, which is 15 to 22 times higher than the general population rate of 0.9% to 1.3% at the time. Pictured: A Publix cashier packs groceries in Miami Beach, Florida, May 2020
About 75% had no symptoms and workers who dealt with customers were five times more likely to test positive. Pictured: Cindy Lambing completes her shopping at Linden Hills Coop as cashier Sareena Tippett redevelops the check-out area in Minnesota in May 2020
Previous studies have looked at the risk of infection for people in what are known as “essential” jobs, but these have primarily focused on frontline workers.
“We have seen many exposure research publications that are specific to key workers … but all of them to healthcare workers,” said Dr. Justin Yang, visiting professor in the department of environmental health at Harvard TH Chan and assistant professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine, told DailyMail.com.
‘Nobody really looked at this other key workers, so it gave me more motivation to look at other key workers who were working during the pandemic. ‚
For the study, which was published in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine, the researchers examined data from 104 employees at a grocery store in Boston.
Every employee was tested for COVID-19 in May of this year as part of a mandatory test guideline issued by the city after an employee tested positive.
They also answered questions about their work patterns and role in the business. their daily ways; and what protective measures they have taken at work.
Workers were also asked about symptoms and exposure to anyone with a confirmed case of the virus in the past 14 days, as well as mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
The results showed that every fifth worker tested positive for the virus, indicating an infection rate of 20 percent.
This is significantly higher than the prevalence in the local community at the time: it was between 0.9 and 1.3 percent.
This means that the rate among grocery store workers was 15 to 22 times higher than that of the general population.
75 percent of those who tested positive had no symptoms and 91 percent of those who tested positive had a customer-facing role, compared to 59 percent of those who tested negative.
This shows that employees in customer-facing roles such as cashiers tested positive five times more often than their colleagues in other roles.
“When there was one person who was positive, I expected that we would see more,” said Yang.
“However, the end result of seeing 20 percent of them was positive, and of those 20 percent, almost 80 percent showed no symptoms. This was a really surprising result and quite worrying for the amount of asymptomatic carriers and spreaders are still working … when they were actively shedding viruses. ‚
It wasn’t just customer-focused employees, however; Those in supervisory roles were six times more likely to test positive than their colleagues.
A total of 24 workers reported mild anxiety, half of whom reported that they could not create social distance. The majority – 76 percent – who did not report fear said they could practice social distancing.
Eight employees reported mild depression, and these were people who couldn’t distance themselves socially or had to commute to work by public transport or carpooling.
Workers who could commute on foot, by bike, or in their own car were 90 percent less likely to report symptoms of depression.
Yang said these results require employee services to help key workers cope with the mental stress they face during the pandemic.
For future research, the team hopes to screen all types of workers to see if working on site increases the risk of developing COVID-19.
Yang recommends workers – especially those who deal with customers – wear masks and practice social distancing as much as possible, and employers should conduct routine tests of their employees.
“If we don’t do routine testing, a lot of people will be kind of missing … and especially when they have client positions, they’re super spreaders without knowing they’re spreading the disease,” he said.
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