NIOSH Stresses the Importance of Collecting COVID-19 Case Job Information

Collecting, coding, analyzing and reporting industry and occupation data from COVID-19 cases is crucial to informing public health strategies to reduce the impact of the pandemic on workers. One NIOSH article gives some examples.

Studying the virus in terms of its prevalence among certain industries and types of workers is important to informing and building policies that will best help the public. One NIOSH article elaborates on its previous blog post, “Collecting occupation and industry data in public health surveillance systems for COVID-19.”

Having data about industry and occupation “helps the public health community identify work-related outbreaks and evaluate risks among various groups of workers.” While researchers have had to adjust their methods of data collection as science on the virus has evolved, there is a growing effort by public health officials to focus on COVID case job collection.

See another recent post on the topic titled “Making Industry and Occupation Information Useful for Public Health: A guide to coding industry and occupation text fields.”

The article from NIOSH highlights two recent examples of how collecting and coding job information for cases can be used to ensure worker safety.

What Washington State Learned: Cases by Occupation and Industry

The Washington State Department of Health worked with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries’ Safety & Health Assessment & Research for Prevention Program to study COVID-19 cases among occupation and industry. Here are the 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 percent of the cases involving individuals between the ages of 18-64 years old. In 2019, an estimated 73 percent of the entire state population between the ages of 18-64 were employed.

Key findings by industry

  • Workers in health care and social assistance make up only 13 percent of Washington’s total workforce, yet 31 percent of COVID-19 cases involved workers in in health care and social assistance.
  • Workers in agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting make up only 3 percent of the state’s total workforce, yet 11 percent 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 percent of Washington’s total workforce, yet 11 percent of COVID-19 cases involved workers in healthcare practitioner and technical occupations.
  • Healthcare support occupations make up only 4 percent of the state’s total workforce, yet 9 percent 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.

Washington’s industry and occupation data collection could help public health efforts to prioritize efforts and resources to healthcare workers and Hispanic workers, for example.

What Colorado Learned Assessing Workplace Information before the Stay-at-Home Order

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and CDC aimed to inform public health communications and measures to reduce the transmission of the virus 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,” said the article.

  • 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 percent health care, 17 percent professional or office setting, 7 percent public administration or armed forces and 6 percent 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.

The Colorado Department of Health and Environment has used this data to inform case investigation and outbreak response procedures and inform social distancing policy in various setting for reopening.

In both examples, the case data is useful in proving that healthcare workers are being infected at high rates, but so are other groups and industries officials might not have expected. NIOSH’s article goes to show how important case study and data collection is for informing public health policies—especially since this pandemic is likely going to be around for some time.

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