When we sing the praises of frontline workers—the doctors, nurses, and other medical teams that are tackling the COVID crisis head on—we often forget others that put their lives at risk daily for the sake of their jobs. As one study published in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine reveals, grocery store clerks face a shockingly high risk of COVID infection—which could in turn put customers at risk while shopping. As the study revealed, grocery workers at one store were 20 times more likely to be infected than the general population, and those with customer facing jobs were five times more likely to be infected than their colleagues in other positions.
The study centered on one grocery store in Boston, Massachusetts with 104 employees. In May of this year, the entire team was subjected to coronavirus tests, as part of a mandatory testing policy issued by the city. “One in five (21 out of 104) workers tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, indicating a prevalence of 20 percent at that point in time. This was significantly higher than the prevalence of the infection in the local community at the time: 0.9-1.3 percent,” the study explains.
Perhaps even more disturbingly, 76 percent of these cases were completely asymptomatic, presenting with no known symptoms of COVID. Among those who tested positive, 91 percent had a customer facing role, compared with 59 percent of those employees who tested negative.
“This is the first study to demonstrate the significant asymptomatic infection rate, exposure risks, and associated psychological distress of grocery retail essential workers during the pandemic,” the researchers said. Of course, beyond the harrowing impact on the grocery store workers themselves, these findings also demonstrate a significant COVID risk to the more general population. “Once essential workers are infected with SARS-CoV-2, they may become a significant transmission source for the community they serve,” the study notes.
So the next time you shop at the grocery store, practice extreme COVID precautions: practice social distancing, touch as little as possible, and be sure to wear a mask. And for goodness’ sake, be kind and patient with your checkout clerk—their day is stressful enough already. Read on for more places that could be spreading COVID, and for more on minimizing your risk, check out Your Risk of Catching COVID at Home Is This High.