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More than 60% of essential workers and their families may be at higher risk of severe COVID-19: study

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Rockville, MD — Of the 56.7 million to 74.3 million essential workers and their family members living with them who face an increased risk of contracting COVID-19, as many as 61% are at a heightened risk of severe COVID-19, results of a recent study led by researchers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality suggest.

The researchers analyzed 2014-2017 data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey while consulting Department of Homeland Security resources to determine a range of essential workers and American Time Use Survey data to help estimate the total amount of workers unable to work from home.

Of the 157.3 million workers identified in the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, the data shows 71.5% were essential, while only 19.8% could work from home. Among the 248 million total adults covered in the survey, 49.7% faced an increased risk of severe COVID-19 under main guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That percentage jumped to 61 when using broader CDC guidelines.

The researchers acknowledge limitations in their findings related to a lack of current employment levels, changes in work-from-home status and local infection rates.


“Policymakers seeking to make efficient and equitable decisions about reopening the economy and about vaccine distribution should consider the health risks not only of workers, but also of those with whom they live,” the researchers write.

The study was published online Nov. 9 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

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