How Collecting and Analyzing COVID-19 Case Job Information Can Make a Difference in Public Health

Posted on by Sara E. Luckhaupt, MD, MPH; Matthew R. Groenewold, PhD; Amy Mobley, MEn; Stacey Marovich, MHI, MS; and Marie Haring Sweeney, PhD

 

Collecting, coding, analyzing and reporting industry and occupation data from COVID-19 cases is necessary to inform strategies to reduce the impact of the pandemic on workers. As described in the previous blog post, “Collecting occupation and industry data in public health surveillance systems for COVID-19,” it’s important to collect job information for all workers with COVID-19. Having information about industry and occupation helps the public health community identify work-related outbreaks and evaluate risks among various groups of workers. However, during the early part of the pandemic, minimal information about the jobs of U.S. adults with COVID-19 was collected, analyzed, and reported. That is changing, due in part to resources described in another recent post, “Making Industry and Occupation Information Useful for Public Health: A guide to coding industry and occupation text fields.”

In this blog, we’ll highlight two recent examples of how collecting and coding job information for COVID-19 cases can be used to better ensure worker safety.

Example 1: What Washington State Learned by Examining COVID-19 Cases by Occupation and Industry

The Washington State Department of Health collaborated with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries’ Safety & Health Assessment & Research for Prevention Program to summarize occupation and industry data among COVID-19 cases. Here are key findings:

  • As of July 23, 2020, there were 26,799 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 among Washington residents.
    • 12,117 case reports included employment information coded using standard occupation and industry codes.
    • Employment data were available for 57% of the cases involving individuals between the ages of 18-64 years old.
      • In 2019, an estimated 73% of the entire state population between the ages of 18-64 were employed.
    • Coding was done locally using the NIOSH Industry and Occupation Computerized Coding System (NIOCCS).
  • Key findings by industry
    • Workers in health care and social assistance make up only 13% of Washington’s total workforce, yet 31% of COVID-19 cases involved workers in in health care and social assistance.
    • Workers in agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting make up only 3% of the state’s total workforce, yet 11% of COVID-19 cases involved workers in agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting.
  • Key findings by occupation
    • Healthcare practitioner and technical occupations make up only 5% of Washington’s total workforce, yet 11% of COVID-19 cases involved workers in healthcare practitioner and technical occupations.
    • Healthcare support occupations make up only 4% of the state’s total workforce, yet 9% of COVID-19 cases involved workers in healthcare support occupations.
  • The report also includes the percent of cases by industry/occupation and race and ethnicity.
    • For Hispanics, cases were highest among those working in agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting.

The information learned from Washington’s industry and occupation data collection and analysis could help public health workers prioritize efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19. For example, assessing the industry and occupation found COVID-19 cases among Hispanic workers were highest in agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting. Washington could consider reassessing the materials being distributed among workers in these industries to see if changes could be made to make the information more helpful to the Hispanic population.

 

Example 2: What Nine Colorado Counties Learned by Collecting and Assessing Workplace Information before the Stay-at-Home Order

A study conducted by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and CDC aimed to inform public health communications and measures to reduce exposure and transmission that could be used after reopening.

During March 9–26, 2020, 364 patients with laboratory-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection were randomly selected from nine Colorado counties and asked about possible SARS-CoV-2 exposures before stay-at-home orders took effect on March 26.

  • 264 participants reported working in the 2 weeks before their symptoms began.
  • Participants’ job-related data were recorded in the “occupation” field and coded using the NIOSH Industry and Occupation Computerized Coding System (NIOCCS), with the assistance of NIOSH staff. The actual responses were more consistent with industry categories (work settings) than occupation categories. Therefore, results were reported by work settings.
  • The most commonly reported work settings were
      • 38% health care
      • 17% professional or office setting 
      • 7% public administration or armed forces
      • 6% manufacturing (including meat-packing)
  • 47 participants (28 in healthcare, 6 in public administration or the armed forces, 5 in manufacturing, and 8 in other industries) reported exposure to co-workers, clients/patients, or others with COVID-19 in the workplace.

Through this study, Colorado identified several work settings where infected workers had exposure to people with SARS-CoV-2. Public health workers can assess these industries to identify what is unique about these work environments that may put employees at higher risk for COVID-19 transmission and develop interventions for employers to implement.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has used these findings to:

  • inform case investigation and outbreak response procedures, including the design of data collection instruments and visualization tools for prospective surveillance,
  • inform the social distancing policy in various settings for re-opening.

Learn more about Colorado’s study findings in the MMWR report Exposures Before Issuance of Stay-at-Home Orders Among Persons with Laboratory-Confirmed COVID-19 — Colorado, March 2020

 

These examples show why it is valuable to collect, code, analyze, and report data on the industry and occupation of workers with COVID-19. Both reports illustrate that, while many of the workers who have been infected have been healthcare personnel, other groups of workers employed in non-health care settings have also been impacted by the pandemic. In Washington, the high percentage of agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting workers among cases suggests this group needs special attention to prevent potential workplace COVID-19 transmission. In Colorado, many workers employed in non-health care settings reported known workplace exposures before stay-at-home orders. Continuing to collect, code, analyze, and report industry and occupation data from COVID-19 cases helps inform strategies to reduce the impact of the pandemic on workers.

NIOSH scientists and information technology specialists are available to consult with organizations and state and local public health partners about coding and analyzing work data that are collected. Contact NIOSHIOCoding@cdc.gov for help.

 

Sara E. Luckhaupt, MD, MPH; Matthew R. Groenewold, PhD; Amy Mobley, MEn; Stacey Marovich, MHI, MS; Marie Haring Sweeney, PhD; for the CDC COVID-19 Response Worker Safety and Health Team.

 

Other blogs in the series “COVID-19 Surveillance among Workers: What we know and what are we doing to learn more” include:

Collecting occupation and industry data in public health surveillance systems for COVID-19

Making Industry and Occupation Information Useful for Public Health: A guide to coding industry and occupation text fields

Posted on by Sara E. Luckhaupt, MD, MPH; Matthew R. Groenewold, PhD; Amy Mobley, MEn; Stacey Marovich, MHI, MS; and Marie Haring Sweeney, PhD

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Page last reviewed: July 31, 2020
Page last updated: July 31, 2020