CDC: Hispanic Workers Bore Brunt of Workplace Covid Outbreaks in Utah

This photo shows a smartphone app built for the state of Utah displaying coronavirus test sites. The app tracks symptoms and shares location data for contact tracing, the process of determining who might have been exposed to the virus. The app is “a tool to help jog the memory of the person who is positive so we can more readily identify where they’ve been, who they’ve been in contact with, if they choose to allow that,” said Angela Dunn, Utah’s state epidemiologist. (AP Photo/Lindsay Whitehurst)

(CN) — Hispanics make up less than a quarter of Utah’s workforce but accounted for 73% of workplace outbreaks of Covid-19, according to research published Monday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers at the Utah Department of Health analyzed outbreaks of the novel coronavirus that occurred in Utah between March and June across 15 industries, excluding health care and education workers.

Nearly two-thirds of verified workplace outbreaks occurred in manufacturing, wholesale trade and construction jobs. Hispanic and nonwhite workers make up a quarter of Utah’s workforce but accounted for three-quarters of Covid-19 cases related to workplace outbreaks.

“These disparities might be driven, in part, by longstanding health and social inequities, resulting in the overrepresentation of Hispanic and nonwhite workers in frontline jobs where risk for SARS-CoV-2 exposure might be higher than that associated with remote or nondirect–service work,” the report explained.

SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes the respiratory disease Covid-19 which was first detected in Wuhan, China, last December. The virus spreads easily among people in close contact.

In May, the Pew Research Center found only 26% of Hispanics nationwide were able to work from home, compared to 44% of white people and 48% of Asians.

During the spring research window, the Utah Department of Health confirmed 11,448 cases of Covid-19, tracing 12% of those cases to workplace outbreaks and 9% of outbreaks to congregate living facilities or educational and health care workplaces.

Seventy-six percent of Utah’s 277 outbreaks as of June occurred in workplaces.

Utah closed restaurants and bars in mid-March to slow the spread of Covid-19 then allowed them to reopen at the beginning of May, so some industry outbreaks may have been prevented during much of the study.

During the study, the health department defined a workplace outbreak as “the occurrence of two or more laboratory-confirmed Covid-19 cases occurring within the same 14-day period among coworkers in a common workplace.”

The study may not encompass all workplace outbreaks, since a number of people who contracted Covid-19 did not get tested or were not able to trace the origin of their infection.

Seventy-eight percent of cases — 8,978 patients — were not connected to a specific outbreak.

Among wholesale trades, 377 per 100,000 workers became infected with Covid-19 and 339 per 100,000 workers infected in manufacturing.

While most outbreaks were concentrated among wholesale, manufacturing and construction, “nearly all assessed industry sectors in Utah” experienced Covid-19 outbreaks.

Besides Utah, outbreaks in meat processing plants occurred in three other states including Colorado.

The Utah Department of Health recommends workplaces reduce outbreaks by offering “flexible work schedules, nonpunitive paid sick leave, and telework options” and to ensure these options are available for Hispanic and nonwhite workers as well as white workers.

Hospitalizations were slightly lower for workers who contracted the disease in a workplace outbreak, 6.1%, compared to 7.6% of other infections.

To date, Utah has confirmed 46,652 cases of Covid-19 and lost 364 people to the disease. Nationwide, 5.42 million Americans have contracted the Covid-19 virus since March and 170,000 people have died.

Utah instituted a mask-wearing mandate in July and intends to reopen schools in September.

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