Absenteeism among workers in essential occupations increases during the COVID-19 pandemic

During a pandemic, syndromic methods for monitoring illness outside of health care settings, such as tracking absenteeism trends in schools and workplaces, can be useful adjuncts to conventional disease reporting, according to the CDC.

Each month, CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) monitors the prevalence of health-related workplace absenteeism among currently employed full-time workers in the United States, overall and by demographic and occupational subgroups, using data from the Current Population Survey (CPS). This report describes trends in absenteeism during October 2019–April 2020, including March and April 2020, the period of rapidly accelerating transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Overall, the prevalence of health-related workplace absenteeism in March and April 2020 were similar to their 5-year baselines. However, compared with occupation-specific baselines, absenteeism among workers in several occupational groups that define or contain essential critical infrastructure workforce categories was significantly higher than expected in April.

Significant increases in absenteeism were observed in personal care and service (includes child care workers and personal care aides); healthcare support; and production (includes meat, poultry, and fish processing workers).

Although health-related workplace absenteeism remained relatively unchanged or decreased in other groups, the increase in absenteeism among workers in occupational groups less able to avoid exposure to SARS-CoV-2 highlights the potential impact of COVID-19 on the essential critical infrastructure workforce because of the risks and concerns of occupational transmission of SARS-CoV-2. More widespread and complete collection of occupational data in COVID-19 surveillance is required to fully understand workers’ occupational risks and inform intervention strategies. Employers should follow available recommendations to protect workers’ health.”