A study out of UCSF has found that some essential workers died at disproportionate rates in 2020, with Black and Latino workers affected the most.
The study has yet to be peer-reviewed and was posted to a preprint server.
Using California Department of Public Health death records, the researchers estimated how many more deaths in California occurred in March through December of last year than historical trends would have predicted without the deadly effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The analysis concluded that Californians 18 to 65 experienced a 22% increase in mortality compared to the expected rate given normal circumstances.
The study categorized fatalities by occupation and ethnicity.
Excess mortality was highest in food/agriculture workers, a 39% increase, followed by transportation/logistics workers, who suffered a 28% rise.
“(W)e can see among agricultural workers that a thousand more people died than we would have expected," said Dr. Yea-Hung Chen, an epidemiologist and one of the researchers on the study. "In transportation/logistics, we're seeing about 1,500 more deaths than we would have expected had the pandemic not occurred.”
The combination of ethnicity and occupation appeared to be especially deadly. From the study:
Latino Californians experienced a 36% increase in mortality, with a 59% increase among Latino food/agriculture workers. Black Californians experienced a 28% increase in mortality, with a 36% increase for Black retail workers. Asian Californians experienced an 18% increase, with a 40% increase among Asian healthcare workers. Excess mortality among White working-age Californians increased by 6%, with a 16% increase among White food/agriculture workers.
"In-person essential work is a likely venue of transmission of coronavirus infection and must be addressed through strict enforcement of health orders in workplace settings and protection of in-person workers," the study concludes. "Vaccine distribution prioritizing in-person essential workers will be important for reducing excess COVID mortality."
Chen said he hopes the study will bring about more workplace protections and that essential workers who can't work from home will be prioritized for vaccines.
California, however, just changed its system of prioritizing some essential workers for vaccination to one that will be strictly age-based, starting in mid-February.