About 20% of grocery store employees had Govit-19, and the study found that most had no symptoms
These workers are not even known to be a “significant transmitter” to Covit-19 because most of the study is asymptomatic.
The analysis, published Thursday in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, was the first to demonstrate a significant asymptomatic infection rate during exposure, exposure risks and stress experienced by grocery workers.
In the study, 20% of 104 grocery workers tested at a store in Boston in May had positive nasal swab tests.
The researchers said it was significantly more contagious than those found in surrounding communities. Workers who dealt with customers were five times more likely to test positive for Govt-19 than colleagues in other positions.
But three in four of those who tested positive had no symptoms.
The workers in the study tried to take precautionary measures. Nearly all, 91%, said they wore masks at work and 77% said they wore masks outside of work. Yet only about 66% said they could continue to do social work.
This inability to social distance had an emotional and physical impact. Nearly a quarter of customer service jobs reported that they had anxiety and depression issues compared to the 8% of workers who had to deal with customers. The study found that employees who went to work by bike, car or on foot were less likely to experience stress than those who used public transportation.
“If you’re in an environment where you’re in front of a customer, you can’t be more than six feet tall, which is very stressful for essential staff,” Yang said.
The United Food and Trade Union Confederation (UFCW) said Thursday that at least 108 grocery workers have died and more than 16,300 have been infected or are suffering from Govt-19. The union represents 1.3 million employees.
Yang said he hopes the study will motivate the government and shop owners to provide better guidance, routine testing and safety for grocery store employees.
There is a national movement to appoint grocery workers as first responders, giving priority to testing and personal safety equipment.
Non-union grocers often do not have access to health care, meaning they could face costly health care bills if they contract with Govt-19.
Support for grocery workers has increased in some states due to increased access to childcare and the need for shopkeepers to wear masks. According to the UFCW, three states offer free checks and four concessional workers’ compensation to these workers, but none states offer full first responding status to grocery workers, and the rules vary from state to state.
“We spend a lot of time talking about health workers, which are important, but we don’t see many parts of the puzzle if unhealthy workers don’t look at the expression,” Yang said. “Their voices are not really being heard. I thought it was important to release this so government agencies and shop owners can take note of this and see that they need to protect their employees more.”