As states and employers continue to reopen businesses and public offices, important decisions are being made about how to keep workers safe from becoming infected with coronavirus at work or on their commutes to and from their homes. In addition, outbreaks of coronavirus at some businesses, such as food processing facilities and long-term care facilities, highlight the risks faced by essential workers who have continued to work outside the home. Safety considerations will be particularly important for those workers at greater risk of becoming seriously ill if they become infected with coronavirus. This caution applies to older workers in general, as well as to younger workers with certain medical conditions that put them at higher risk of serious illness if they become infected.
We use the National Health Information Survey (NHIS) to look at how many adult workers1 are at increased risk of severe illness if infected with coronavirus, based on risk factors identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These risk factors include having diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, a body mass index (BMI) above 40, moderate to severe asthma, and a functional limitation due to cancer. All workers 65 and older also are considered at higher risk. The approach is similar to our prior work identifying at-risk adults and is described in more detail in the Methods.