A new study found that working in a grocery store puts employees at a serious risk of infection, especially those who must interact with customers.
These workers are likely to become an “important source of transmission” of Covid-19 without even knowing it, because most of the studies are asymptomatic.
The analysis, published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine on Thursday, is the first evidence to prove the asymptomatic infection rate, exposure risk and psychological distress of grocery workers during the pandemic.
In this study, 20% of 104 grocery workers tested at a Boston store in May tested positive for nasal swabs.
Researchers say this is much higher than the infection rate in the surrounding communities. Workers dealing with customers are five times more likely to test positive for Covid-19 than colleagues in other positions.
But three-quarters of those who test positive have no symptoms.
Dr. Justin Yang, an assistant professor at Boston University School of Medicine and a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health, said: “We are very surprised to see so many people asymptomatic.” “This is absolutely shocking. Because it means employees of retail grocery stores are in contact with customers and act as intermediaries for the virus-like super spreaders.”
The workers in the study tried to take preventive measures. Almost all respondents (91%) said they wear masks at work, while 77% said they also wear masks outside of work. However, only about 66% said they were able to consistently engage in social distancing at work.
This inability to maintain a distance from society has an emotional and physical impact. Nearly a quarter of those who work in customer service said that they have anxiety and depression, compared to 8% of employees who don’t have to interact with customers. Studies have found that employees who ride bicycles, drive or walk to and from get off work are less likely to suffer from depression than employees who use public transportation.
Yang said: “If you are in an environment in front of customers, your height cannot exceed six feet, which is really stressful for basic employees.”
The United Nations International Union of Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) said on Thursday that at least 108 grocery workers had died and more than 16,300 were infected or exposed to Covid-19. The union represents 1.3 million employees.
Yang said that the worker infection rate in this study is indeed high. In contrast, an earlier study of Covid-19 infection among Dutch health care workers found that the infection rate was about 10%.
Yang said he hopes this research will prompt the government and store owners to provide better guidance, routine testing and protection for grocery store workers.
A national campaign has taken place to designate grocery store workers as first responders, which will give them priority access to testing and personal protective equipment.
In an August CNN editorial by UFCW chairman and Democratic vice presidential candidate, Marc Perrone, grocery store workers should also receive hazard pay.
Non-union grocery store workers usually have little medical coverage, which means that if they sign up for Covid-19, they may face expensive medical expenses.
Some states have increased support for grocery store workers by increasing access to childcare and requiring shoppers to wear masks. According to UFCW, three states provide these workers with free testing and four states provide workers’ compensation, but none of the states provide grocery store workers with full first responder status, and the regulations are inconsistent between states.
Yang said: “We spend a lot of time talking about medical staff. They are important, but if we don’t consider the risks faced by non-medical staff, then we will miss a lot of problems.” “Their voices are really not heard. I think it’s published. This book is important so that government agencies and store owners can notice this and see that they should protect their employees more.”