COVID-19 Resource Center

COVID-19 Resource Center

Disclosures: Lan reports no relevant financial disclosures. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.
November 05, 2020
1 min read

Grocery workers with direct customer contact 5 times likelier to have SARS-CoV-2

Disclosures: Lan reports no relevant financial disclosures. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.
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Grocery store employees with direct customer exposure are 5 times more likely than other employees to test positive for SARS-CoV-2, according to a small study published in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

Results of the study also showed that three of every four workers with COVID-19 were asymptomatic.

Grocery store COVID transmission graphic
Source: Lan FY, et al. Occup Environ Med. 2020;doi:10.1136/oemed-2020-106774.

“The fact that one can protect oneself with physical barriers or the use of masks and face shields is very important when there is any customer exposure — particularly the employee,” Justin Yang, MPH, assistant professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine, told Healio. “What is important to differentiate is that in this study, we show non-health care workers and retail workers. This study is hard to come by because it was done in the private sector, and usually corporate businesses do not have a uniform way of giving a true picture of what is going on.”

Lan and colleagues conducted a cross-sectional study of a single grocery store in Massachusetts in May 2020. They examined 104 workers’ personal and occupational history, perception of COVID-19, and SARS-CoV-2 test results using the General Anxiety Disorder-7 and Patient Health Questionnaire-9.

Justin Yang

Of the workers tested, 20% tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. Among them, 76% were asymptomatic, and employees with direct exposure to customers had 5-to-1 odds (95% CI, 1.1-24.8) of having a positive test. The inability to practice social distancing also was a risk factor for depression and anxiety, with those workers allowed to practice social distancing consistently having odds of 0.2 (95% CI, 0.03-0.99) and 0.3 (95% CI, 0.1-0.9) for screening positive for depression and anxiety respectively, compared with odds of 8% and 24% the workers overall, the researchers reported.

“The most difficult part is getting data. Companies — especially in the private sector — would like to not have too much exposure to the general public,” Yang said. “That is a difficult part of this whole process — the opportunity to obtain data from a cohort and actually look at their occupational risk. I think that may be the reason why it has not been discussed much throughout the past few months.”