News Release

Covid Infection Risk by Occupation and Industry


A new study in the American Journal of Public Health, “Covid-19 Risk by Workers’ Occupation and Industry in the United States, 2020–2021,” analyzed National Health Interview Survey data to investigate workers’ risk of Covid infection. Workers in health care and the social assistance industries experienced significantly elevated rates of infection.

   Gaffney is a pulmonary and critical care physician at the Cambridge Health Alliance and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. 

Gaffney, who co-authored the study, told the Institute for Public Accuracy: “As far as I’m aware, this is the first nationally-representative study” that looks into the relationship between Covid-19 incidence and worker occupation and industry. Other studies have looked at death rates, Gaffney noted, “but death can be confounded by health status. The advantage of our approach is that it looks at the U.S. as a whole and that we could try to isolate work from other factors that might affect” the risk of infection, controlling for covariates such as age, gender, household size, and family income. 

“A low-income person might have an increased Covid risk no matter what [their job is]; let’s say they don’t have a car and have to take public transportation to work.” The study’s authors thus controlled for income and for the number of people in the home. They found that the risk of Covid increased if a person was working compared to nonworking and that there was a “significant stepwise increase in Covid risk as the number of workers rose in the house.”

“The occupation and industry impacts,” which show that workers in sectors in healthcare and social assistance industries had a higher risk of infection, “were what we expected. But our study allows us to put a clearer and firmer conclusion about workplace effects. The fact that the number of working adults in the home was so clearly associated [with increased risk] was a strong effect and speaks to how workplace exposures affect everyone” around the worker, not just the worker themselves. More broadly, [our findings] show that workplace risks exist even for people with professions and jobs that are well-compensated.” 

Going forward, Gaffney’s findings indicate that workplaces need to do a better job of protecting workers in future outbreaks.