A new study published in MedRXiv reports that construction workers have the highest COVID-19 cases of nearly any industry, including healthcare workers, first responders, food service, correctional personnel, elderly care workers, and grocery store workers.
The study comes as the Center for Disease Control is making advisory recommendations about who should be first in line to receive vaccinations. The argument put forward by construction advocates is that, while healthcare workers should be in the front of the line, construction workers, who are considered essential, should be right behind.
The study, which used data collected and analyzed by Curative, looked at more than 730,000 test results. It found that construction workers had a 5.7% asymptomatic positivity rate. By comparison, the next highest rate was found in food service workers, who were considerably lower, at 3.8%. In symptomatic cases, construction was the second highest industry at 10.1%, behind the highest group, correctional workers, at 12.5%.
While there is no national database that tracks COVID-19 cases by profession, individual states are reporting statistics backing up the study. Michigan, Washington, and Tennessee’s public health departments have all found positivity rates in construction workers to be in the top three worst offenders. In contrast, data from Utah finds it to be the second worst. And a landmark study from the University of Texas concluded that construction workers were five times more likely to be hospitalized than workers in all other industries.
It’s not clear why infection rates are so high in the construction industry. Brian Turmail, VP of Public Affairs at the Associated General Contractors of America, stated that he doesn’t believe there is a link between the industry and the disease. He says that, instead, the link is because of the demographic groups that make up the worker base. “Given the rising coronavirus case counts across the country, and its particularly high rates among the demographic groups that make up much of the industry’s workforce, we are seeing more workers testing positive. The distinction is that the virus is not spreading occupationally — in other words, workers are not getting the virus from their job sites — but instead is being transmitted via local communities. Then workers are showing up, asymptomatic, and testing positive.”
Turmail also criticized the findings of the study for not giving an exact representation of the data. While construction indeed had the highest positivity rates, the overall number of construction workers included in the study was minimal, making up only 529 of the 730,000 test results.