First responders, food service workers were most likely to die of COVID in 2020, CDC confirms


First responders and food service workers were the Americans most likely to die from COVID-19 in 2020, according to final government figures released Friday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 60.3 out of every 100,000 workers aged 15-64 in protective services occupations died of the virus, the highest of any industry. That includes police officers, firefighters, correctional officers and security guards.

Accommodation and food service workers in hotels, restaurants and bars had the second-highest rate at 55 deaths for every 100,000 employees, according to a National Vital Statistics report.

CDC Research Epidemiologist Andrea Steege, author of the report, said the numbers confirm preliminary data.

“This is the first report to describe U.S. COVID-19 mortality by both occupation and industry over the entirety of 2020,” Ms. Steege said in an email.

Among the 46 states plus New York City for which the CDC has complete data, COVID caused 1,750 out of 15,121 protective service worker deaths in 2020.

In the food preparation and serving industry, COVID caused 2,859 out of 37,954 deaths.

The CDC calculated age-adjusted death rates for COVID based on the age distribution of the U.S. population.

Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said the study confirms that not having Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) put frontline workers at higher risk before vaccines became available.

“This underscores the need for appropriate PPE to be available to those in high-risk occupations,” said Dr. Adalja, an infectious disease specialist.

The CDC report also estimated the proportionate mortality ratios of various industries. In descending order, it found that the highest proportions of COVID deaths occurred in community and social services occupations, transportation and warehousing, healthcare and social assistance, and administrative, support and waste services.

Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, a physician at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said the report shows how public-health policies overlooked those who had to work outside the home during the pandemic.

“We must create policies in the future not solely for those who can stay home, but also for those who must continue to be in the public realm,” Dr. Galiatsatos said.


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