Regularly working in an office rather than from home may increase a person’s risk of getting sick with the coronavirus, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The findings come from a study of 314 adults who received a Covid-19 test at an outpatient facility in July. About half of the group tested positive for the virus. Those who tested positive were almost twice as likely to report that they were regularly going into an office or school setting, compared with people who tested negative, in the two weeks prior to their diagnosis.
The link between Covid-19 risk and going into a workplace continued even after researchers excluded people who work in critical infrastructure jobs, like health care and education.
People who worked at an office and those who worked at home both had similar levels of community exposure, meaning each group was just as likely as the other to go shopping; visit a salon, gym, restaurant, bar or coffee shop; or use public transportation. In-office workers were more likely than teleworkers to attend church or religious gatherings, however.
The report acknowledges limitations to the study, such as that participants may not be nationally representative, and that because patients took Covid-19 tests at an outpatient center, their cases may be more mild in general.
Still, the CDC report encourages organizations to support widespread teleworking in order to contain the virus in the coming months.
“Businesses and employers should promote alternative work site options, such as teleworking, where possible, to reduce exposures to SARS-CoV-2,” the report reads. “Where telework options are not feasible, worker safety measures should continue to be scaled up to reduce possible worksite exposures.”
The CDC says businesses that must operate in-person can protect their employees by supporting social distancing, mask-wearing, heightened cleaning protocols and daily health checks on the worksite.
Since the beginning of the pandemic’s impact in the U.S. in March, organizations have transitioned their employees to work from home en masse, including the CDC itself, in order to limit he spread of the coronavirus. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates roughly 45% of U.S. jobs can be done remotely.
However, according to the October jobs report, just 1 of every 5 workers is still working from home due to the pandemic. People who reported teleworking in the CDC study were more likely to be White, have a college degree, make more than $75,000 per year and have health insurance.
Meanwhile, Covid-19 cases are spiking around the country as the nation surpasses 10 million cases. Health officials warn that the public must prepare for colder weather ahead, which could result in ongoing virus spread and business shutdowns.
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