Corona hotspots: The danger lurks in the workplace

Even after more than a year of a pandemic, an important question in combating them is still unclear in many cases: Where do many infections actually take place - at home, in the bus and train, in shops, schools or at work? This became visible last with the introduction of the controversial Compulsory testing in companies this week. It is undisputed that work-related contacts carry a risk of infection. However, the exact extent of the contribution of the work to the infection process is still largely unknown.

A new study by Professors Nico Dragano from the Medical Faculty of the University Hospital provides clues Dusseldorf and Morten Wahrendorf from Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf. To this end, the two researchers compared the regional weekly Covid-19 incidences of the working-age population in 401 districts from the beginning of February 2020 to the end of March 2021 with indicators on employment and the size of economic sectors in these regions.

"Districts with comparatively high employment rates had overall higher incidences and different courses in the past two waves (spring 2020 and winter 2020/2021)," is one result. In such regions the increase was sometimes faster and reached higher incidence values. Between the two waves, however, the incidence values ​​were comparably high in all regions. "The pattern of higher numbers of infections in regions with a high proportion of people in gainful employment can currently also be seen at the beginning of the third wave of infections," it continues.

The number of cases is high where there is a lot of industry

When the two scientists looked at the analysis by branch of industry, they also came across a striking finding: "Districts with a high proportion of employed people in production had and have on average higher incidences compared to districts with a less pronounced production sector." In such regions if the incidences rose earlier and faster at the beginning of all three waves, they would also have reached a higher value.

At the same time, the scientists found that there, after lockdown measures, the values ​​again fell later than in areas with a lower proportion of employees in production. Even taking into account other possible influencing factors such as the number of commuters, the size of living spaces or the density of settlements, the originally identified relationships remained visible.

However, Dragano and Wahrendorf expressly point out that their results must be interpreted carefully. After all, the evaluation was carried out on a regional level and did not allow any conclusions to be drawn about the individual employed. It cannot be ruled out that they were infected somewhere other than at work. The researchers are therefore calling for further studies, "above all population studies with individual data on the occurrence of infections in different occupational groups". Nevertheless, the study broadened the level of knowledge.

If their results are confirmed, this would speak in favor of "a preventive potential of increased implementation of the SARS-CoV-2 occupational health and safety regulations and additional measures," according to the researchers.