Researchers from Harvard University found that a significant number of asymptomatic supermarket employees tested positive for new crowns when Massachusetts did not enforce mask enforcement. The scientists found that employees who came into direct contact with customers were five times more likely to test positive. Supermarket employees are important workers who are often exposed to the risk of COVID-19 transmission, especially in areas such as the United States that are dealing with major outbreaks.
Researchers from Harvard University found that 20 percent of the 104 employees at a Massachusetts supermarket tested positive, and most of them tested for no symptoms. Although a large proportion of COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic, they can also spread in the pre-symptom phase of the patient who eventually develops symptoms. According to the study, these patients were infected as early as two days before the first symptoms arrived.
The paper says the infection rate among supermarket staff is “significantly higher than in the surrounding communities”. The study was first published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Employees who come into direct contact with customers are five times more likely to test positive, the researchers said.
“We did this study because in the first few months of COVID, a lot of the focus was on health care workers, but not other workers that were necessary,” Dr. Justing Yang told Fox News. Justing Yang is an assistant professor at Boston University School of Medicine and a researcher at Harvard’s Chan Zeng-hee School of Public Health.
“I think there’s always a concern when a person is in close contact with someone else, such as when interacting with a store salesman/cashier,” Justing adds. “As a result, physical barriers (lysosic glass) and wearing masks will significantly reduce the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection.”
While this ratio may sound scary, there is one detail that explains the unexpected discovery. The study took place in May, and Justing noted that Massachusetts implemented mask regulations after the study was released. The CDC didn’t recommend masks until early April. In indoor environments such as supermarkets, the more people wear masks, the lower the risk of transmission and better protection for customers and workers.
“I do think we probably won’t see that number for stores and states with mask injunctions,” Justing said. “But for stores and states that don’t have mask injunctions, it’s likely to happen in other stores as well.”
Similar studies from China show a 9.2 per cent infection rate among supermarket workers, the researchers said.
In addition to the obvious risks associated with COVID-19 infection, the researchers say supermarket workers face additional mental health challenges. Those who fail to practice socializing distance at work are at higher risk of anxiety or depression. In addition, those who commute by public or shared means of transport are more likely to suffer from depression than those who walk, ride bicycles or use private cars.
“This is the first study to demonstrate significant asymptomatic infection rates, exposure risks, and associated psychological distress among essential workers in grocery retailing during a pandemic, supporting policy recommendations that employers and government officials should take action to implement preventive strategies and administrative arrangements, such as methods to reduce interpersonal contact, repeated and routine SARS-CoV-2 employee testing to ensure the health and safety of necessary workers,” the researchers wrote. “Our important mental health findings call for action to provide comprehensive employee assistance services to help basic workers cope with psychological distress during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The study does have limitations, and the conclusions may not apply to the current outbreak. In communities where more people wear masks, the risk of infection may be much lower, and in places where people do not wear masks or maintain social distance, the risk of infection is higher. The full study can be found on this link.