Research: Nurses, cleaners, painters most at risk for Covid infection

Nurses, store sales staff, newspaper distributors and cleaners were the professionals with the highest incidence of coronavirus infections last year per occupational group size, according to a study conducted by the Helsinki School of Economics.

The report added that what unites these professions is that they are all relatively low paid and there are few or no opportunities for teleworking or working from home.

Previous studies of at-risk groups have found that the sectors with the most workers thus have the highest number of infections.

Therefore, in its study, the HGSE wanted to look at the number of infections in relation to the number of workers in each occupational group Mika Kortelainen, Professor of Health Economics, University of Turku, who led the research group.

"Looking at the relative infection rates, there are some rather surprising findings that" Kortelainen said. "For example, painters and site cleaners have the highest levels of infection, and of course there are also health care professionals. But then there are occupations that are less featured in public debate but have a relatively large number of infections compared to the number of workers."

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Store staff were found to be among the top five at risk of infection compared to occupational group size.Henrietta Hassinen / General

The report also found that drivers, athletes and physical education teachers, kitchen workers and tourism workers also had a disproportionately high rate of coronavirus infections.

Background factors are also taken into account

The number of infections in relation to the size of the occupational group gives indications of the coronavirus risk associated with each occupation, Kortelainen said, but the study was also influenced by different background factors of employees, such as age, gender, place of residence and origin.

"There are people of very different ages in different professions, and it is known that infections are not evenly distributed among all age groups in Finland. Therefore, taking age into account is important. Origin is also important in certain occupational groups because there are a lot of people with a foreign background in the construction industry, for example" Kortelainen said.

When background factors and occupational group were taken into account, the highest risk of coronavirus infection was found for nurses and other health care professionals.

Kortelainen added that employees in other fields should also be aware of possible risks of infection.

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Länsimetro construction site in Souka.
Workers in the construction industry were also found to be at high risk of infection.Henrietta Hassinen / General

"It is important to note that the risks, for example for athletes, physical education teachers and drivers and in the construction industry, can be surprisingly high," he said.

On the other hand, however, Kortelainen said that the teachers on the list were lower than would have been assumed based on the public debate.

"So far, teachers in Finland have not had many infections. Of course, the situation can change a lot due to new virus alternatives, and in that sense, these results may not be appropriate for the current situation," he said.

Higher education, salary does not protect against infections

The researchers assumed that a higher incidence of coronavirus infections is much more common in lower socioeconomic groups and at lower income levels.

According to Kortelainen, this assumption turned out to be correct: the number of infections has been higher among low-paid people in Finland. However, he added that a higher level of education and a better salary do not guarantee protection against the virus.

"It was surprising that coronavirus infections were indeed high even in high-income and highly educated," Kortelainen said.

Last spring in particular, infections spread rapidly to high-income groups.

"Spring infections can be explained, for example, by the return of higher-income Finns from abroad. These results confirm that not only lower socio-economic groups should be concerned, but also higher-income groups, as they may also become ill and expose others," Kortelainen added.

The report’s data on coronavirus infections come from the Communicable Diseases Registry, which covered the period from January 1 to November 22, 2020. Professional data came from the 2020 Income Registry. Data on income and education are from 2018.

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