Working in an office instead of remotely may double COVID risk: CDC


Employees in office settings may be more likely to become infected with the novel coronavirus if they regularly commute to work rather than work from home, according to a new report.

Public health investigators who examined possible exposures to COVID-19 among employed adults found that workers who tested positive for COVID-19 were almost twice as likely to report regularly commuting to work, compared with the employees studied who tested negative, according to research published Thursday as part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Researchers interviewed roughly 310 people who took a COVID-19 test in July, about half of whom tested positive, and compared them to a control group of people who tested negative. The majority of both groups, all adults, held full-time, non-essential jobs outside of critical infrastructure and had similar community exposure to COVID-19 independent of work.

The groups had some differences in behavior: Only a third of the COVID-19 group reported working from home or teleworking at least part of the time before their diagnosis, while half of the control group participants reported at least sometimes working remotely. In the two weeks prior to getting sick, members of the COVID-19 group were more likely to report that they exclusively went to the office or to a school than control group members were. Researchers also found an association between going to the office regularly and attending church or religious gatherings.

Limitations of the study include potential differences between people willing to participate in the CDC investigation and those who refused; differences among remote work options and work policies; and the possibility of misclassified COVID-19 tests because of the limits of PCR testing. Since the participants were recruited from outpatient settings, the outcome may be different among workers with more severe infections.

Still, the findings indicate that there is an opportunity for reflection among white-collar bosses and business owners.

"Businesses and employers should promote alternative work site options, such as teleworking, where possible, to reduce exposures," the report recommends, noting that "allowing and encouraging the option to work from home" is an important tool for slowing the spread of COVID-19.

At last count, the United States was reporting more than 100,000 new COVID-19 cases each day. As of Thursday, 234,225 Americans had died from the virus.

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