OPH study breaks down COVID-19 infection by employment sector

Health-care workers are still most at risk of contracting COVID-19 on the job, but a study by Ottawa Public Health reveals it's not the only at-risk sector.

Health-care workers top the list, but other industries have been hit hard

Doctors, nurses and personal support workers account for 62 per cent of positive COVID-19 cases who declared an occupation, according to a study by Ottawa Public Health. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Health-care workers are still most at risk of contracting COVID-19 on the job, but a study by Ottawa Public Health (OPH) reveals it's not the only at-risk employment sector.

OPH analyzed data collected from the city's 2,036 confirmed cases as of June 12, sorting the roughly 44 per cent whose declared occupation fit job categories defined by Statistics Canada's 2016 labour force census. (Many of the rest were retired, underage or otherwise unemployed.)

"The big story to date is the majority were health-care workers," said Brent Moloughney, Ottawa's associate medical officer of health. "Going forward though, I think it will be very important to see what occupation groups are showing increase risk of infection."

The epidemiological report, titled Special Focus: Occupation, shows 62 per cent of people infected with COVID-19 in Ottawa (whose declared occupation fit the designated categories) were employed in the health-care sector, most of them in long-term care.   

"Sales and service" workers made up the next largest group, accounting for 13 per cent of those who declared their occupation. Next came a broad category including teachers, police officers, jail guards and social workers, who made up 11 per cent the total. 


Moloughney said the report provides OPH with clues as to where further testing and surveillance should be concentrated.

"As we reopen ... we'll want to look at trends and whether there's any patterns of groups that seem to be at higher risk than others," he said.

People line up outside the COVID-19 assessment centre at Brewer Arena in Ottawa. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

According to a provincial strategy released last month, testing will be conducted not just at assessment centres and where there are outbreaks, but may also be targeted to certain employment sectors. 

"The province is also looking to expand testing to additional essential workplaces and is working collaboratively with sector leaders, including auto manufacturers, major retailers and trucking," according to the document, called Protecting Ontarians Through Enhanced Testing

Moloughney said local public health units haven't received details about how or when testing will be expanded, or which employment sectors might be targeted.

Among the infected health-care workers in Ottawa, the OPH survey found 71 per cent had been providing care at facilities where there'd been an outbreak, 83 per cent of those in a long-term care setting. 

The study estimates seven per cent of all health-care workers providing clinical care in Ottawa — 553 out of 7,965 — have been infected with COVID-19.

The report notes there's much higher rate of reporting among health-care workers, since they are more likely to be tested.

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