Research: Construction Workers 5x More Likely to Enter Hospital with COVID-19

Construction workers are five times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than other kinds of workers. That's the conclusion of a research project undertaken by the COVID-19 Modeling Consortium, an interdisciplinary network of researchers and health professionals working at the University of Texas at Austin.

The results were published in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Network Open, a subsidiary of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In an analysis of data from mid-March to mid-August on Austin hospitalizations, while Austin residents experienced an increase of coronavirus hospitalization rates of four times, from 0.38 at the start to 1.5 per 1,000 residents at the end, for construction workers, the rate rose from 0.22 to 9.3 per 1,000 construction workers.

According to the researchers, the higher relative risk for this category of workers probably had several reasons. First, there was the continuation of construction work throughout the pandemic. For instance, while construction in Austin was initially halted by local order, according to the researchers, a week later, the segment was deemed "essential" by state order, allowing construction projects to continue. The nature of the work also exacerbated the risks due to close contact with others, practices by employers and demographic factors.

Another aspect of the relatively high rate of infection is the racial/ethnic makeup of the construction sector. As the report noted, while 18 percent of all workers are Hispanic or Latinx, nearly 30 percent of the construction workforce in the United States are Latinx. Yet this group of people has suffered nearly five times more COVID-19 hospitalizations compared to White, non-Hispanic people, according to tracking by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Texas, while Hispanics make up 40 percent of the state's population, they make up 55 percent of COVID deaths, according to the latest data from the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The study found that some basic precautions — mask wearing and physical distancing on the work site —would help reduce the numbers. Also useful: having national, state or local government or employers cover paid sick leave and other incentives to motivate workers to stay home when they have a known exposure or are experiencing mild symptoms. In addition, the researchers wrote, regular work site-based COVID-19 testing and contact tracing would help prevent spread.

"It doesn't necessarily mean we need to stop construction work," said Lauren Ancel Meyers, a professor of integrative biology and director of the consortium, in a statement. "It means we need to go to great lengths to ensure the health and safety of workers when they do go to work."

The study was supported, in part, by the CDC and the National Institutes of Health.

The report is openly available on the JAMA Network Open website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.