COVID-19 ISO Insights

Single Grocery Store Study Reveals Potential Hub for COVID-19 Virus

November 16, 2020

By: Christopher Sirota, CPCU

BMJ Journals has reported on a study (PDF version here) of some grocery store workers at a single location in Massachusetts. The study took place during the month of May 2020, and reportedly revealed a high rate of asymptomatic positive tests for SARS-CoV-2, the COVID-19 virus.

Researchers that conducted the study reportedly were motivated to pursue their investigation, in part, because, although there have been studies that examined essential workers in the healthcare industry, there has not apparently been research focused on essential workers that are not in the healthcare industry, such as grocery store workers. As such, learning more about this topic is reportedly considered vital, in part, because "occupational exposures [can] increase [a worker's] own risk to SARS-CoV-2 infection, and increase the risk of secondary transmissions to their colleagues, families and communities."

According to the study, the researchers tested 104 workers for the SARS-CoV-2, and for symptoms of depression and anxiety. Per the study, 20 percent of the workers tested positive for the virus - considered an "alarming rate" by the researchers - and 76 percent of this group was asymptomatic.

The study highlights that workers, including supervisors, that were more often in direct contact with customers were "five times more likely to test positive" for the virus.

Furthermore, regarding mental health, the self-reporting questionnaires used in the study revealed that workers that were able to socially distance felt less depressed and reported fewer symptoms of anxiety. Notably, workers that could either bike, walk or travel by personal auto to work reported less depression. (For more on mental health and how the COVID-19 outbreak may impact it across the population, read our post here.)

Although the study discusses its various limitations, in particular its small sample size, the researchers noted some strengths, including:

  • the opportunity to use the highly sensitive nasopharyngeal testing method,
  • and that focusing on a single store may eliminate factors that may confound results such as socioeconomic status.

Partly because of these reasons, among others, the researchers reportedly consider that the "findings in this study may be generalised to grocery store employees working during the COVID-19 pandemic in similar settings."