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Prioritize COVID-19 protections for essential workers with existing medical conditions, CDC says

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Atlanta — Employers should prioritize COVID-19 exposure controls for essential workers whose existing medical conditions put them at higher risk of severe illness from the potentially deadly disease, say researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The researchers analyzed 2017-2018 survey data (the most recent available) from the agency’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System to assess the baseline prevalence of existing medical conditions among workers in six essential occupations and seven essential industries. The study population comprised 213,518 adult workers.

Existing medical conditions were significantly elevated among home health and personal care aides, as well as workers in the nursing home/rehabilitation, trucking and transit industries. Those in the health care industry, however, also have increased exposure risks because their jobs require close contact with patients, the general public or co-workers.

Each of these groups had higher concentrations of workers from demographic groups that face greater risk of severe illness because of COVID-19, such as older workers and minorities. Among health practitioner and home health aide occupations, along with the transit, trucking and ambulatory health care industries, at least 15% of the workers were 60 or older. At least 25% of home health aides and the nursing home/rehabilitation and transit industry workers were non-Hispanic Black. The percentage of Hispanic workers was highest in the food manufacturing (36) and home health aide industries (20).


In addition to prioritizing exposure controls, the researchers said making access to health care a priority is necessary to prevent and treat existing medical conditions such as asthma, cancer, coronary heart disease, chronic kidney disease, diabetes, hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, obesity and stroke – all of which showed strong or mixed evidence when associated with severe COVID-19 outcomes.

The study was published online Sept. 11 in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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