New Study Reveals Jobs Workers Are Most Likely to Die from COVID-19

February 19, 2021

A recently published study on COVID‐19 deaths by occupation in Massachusetts from March 1 to July 31, 2020 is one of the first to demonstrate that certain jobs in the state are at higher risk of death due to COVID-19.

Conceived and conducted by MCPHS University Public Health Instructor Devan Hawkins, the study examined death certificate data from a total of 555 individuals aged 16–64 who died of COVID-19 and whose death certificate listed occupation. Eleven occupational groups had mortality rates higher than the average worker. Those occupations in order of risk include healthcare support; transportation and material moving; food preparation and serving; building and grounds cleaning and maintenance; production; construction and extraction; installation, maintenance, and repair; protective service; personal care and service; arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media; and community and social service. The study also confirmed well‐documented racial and ethnic disparities in COVID‐19 deaths. Hispanic and Black workers had mortality rates more than four times White workers. The study found this true even within the same occupation group. For instance, Hispanic food preparation and serving workers had a mortality rate eight times that of White workers in the same occupation.

Many of the occupations with elevated death rates are jobs that cannot be done from home and therefore have an elevated risk of exposure. However, the study suggests that other factors may also be contributing to higher death rates like lack of access to healthcare. Seven of the eleven occupations with higher COVID-19 death rates have a higher percentage of workers without health insurance. Workers in high-risk jobs may also be more likely to have underlying comorbidities that increase the risk of dying. As other studies have noted, male workers had almost twice the mortality rate as female workers, with the difference being particularly devastating for Hispanic, Black, and workers of other races and ethnicities. 

The study further demonstrates the need for the comprehensive workplace COVID protections that MassCOSH has been advocating since the start of the pandemic, especially for low-wage workers, immigrant workers and workers of color. Click here to read the study for yourself.