Health and Healthcare Systems

These are the occupations with the highest COVID-19 risk

Dentist Torben Schoenwaldt and clinical assistant student Rebecka Erichsen work in reopened Harald Dentists Soenderaaparken, as the country loosens the restrictions amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Vejle, Denmark April 20, 2020. Ritzau Scanpix/Claus Fisker via REUTERS    ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. DENMARK OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN DENMARK. - RC288G9UD5EE

Among the greatest risk are dentists. Image: REUTERS/Ritzau Scanpix/Claus Fisker

Marcus Lu
Financial Writer, Visual Capitalist
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  • While many workers are able to work from home and carry out their jobs from a safe place, essential workers like those in retail and healthcare are forced to risk their health and that of their families.
  • With only 29% of Americans able to work from home, social distancing is a luxury not everyone can afford.
  • These visualizations show which occupations carry the most risk of infection from COVID-19.
coronavirus work pandemic from home remote productivity interruptions focus efficiency task job employment career
Frontline healthcare workers are most at risk. Image: U.S. Dept of Labor

The Occupations with the Highest COVID-19 Risk

Many individuals have been practicing social distancing by working from home in recent weeks. While this arrangement can be a great way to reduce one’s exposure to COVID-19, it’s a luxury that’s available to just 29% of Americans.

The situation for the remaining 71% is uncertain, to say the least. A significant portion of the population has lost their jobs due to business shutdowns and mandated lockdown orders. Others employed in “essential services” have continued working as usual, but may face a higher risk of potential exposure to the virus.

To that end, today’s infographic leverages data from the Occupational Information Network to determine which occupations face the highest risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Have you read?

Methodology and Results

Our score for each occupation is based on evaluating the data on three physical job attributes covered in the occupational database:

1. Contact With Others: How much does this job require the worker to be in contact with others in order to perform it?

2. Physical Proximity: To what extent does this job require the worker to perform tasks in close physical proximity to others?

3. Exposure to Disease and Infection: How often does this job require exposure to hazardous conditions?

coronavirus fears epidemic pandemic disease infection contamination sanitation spread virus health care
How risky is your job? Image: Visual Capitalist

We assigned each attribute an equal weight, then aggregated them to arrive at a final COVID-19 Risk Score between 0 and 100, with 100 representing the highest possible risk. Jobs with a risk score below 0.5 were excluded from further analysis.

To narrow down the list, we removed most occupations held by fewer than 20,000 people. From the remaining pool, we selected 100 well-known occupations, and included the average annual income and number of workers associated with each based on BLS data.

coronavirus pandemic economy stocks market exchange shares bonds trading commission volatility health disease infection finance
Risk is often unrelated to income. Image: Visual Capitalist

While some of these findings may be obvious—nurses and paramedics have a higher chance of exposure to the virus than lawyers and web developers, for example—these datasets allow us to assign a more quantitative figure to each occupation’s level of risk.

Recognizing Those On the Front Lines

Through the #LightItBlue campaign, communities are recognizing the brave efforts of healthcare workers as they fight the virus firsthand. However, with fewer than a third of Americans being able to work from home, many others are also working on the front lines, and thus deserve our recognition.

Two of these occupations are bus drivers (678,260 employed) and cashiers (3,635,559 employed), both of which require workers to be in close physical proximity with others. The services these individuals help to provide are essential, and despite the risks, many have been working throughout the entire pandemic.

Workers in food stores are the ones keeping this nation from going into civil unrest. Because if there is no one working in the stores, we are in trouble.

John T. Niccollai, President, UFCW Local 464A

Data has also shown that working from home is largely reserved for America’s higher earners.

coronavirus fears epidemic pandemic disease infection contamination sanitation spread virus health care italy quarantine home isolation social distancing
On average, those with higher pay are usually more able to work from home, further reducing their risk of exposure to COVID-19. Image: Bureau of Labor Statistics

At a time when many Americans worry about paying their bills, the effects of this inequality can be particularly harsh on those near the bottom of the income spectrum. If unable to work from home, these individuals will likely face increased health risks on top of their existing financial difficulties.

Looking Out For One Another

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted everyone differently, especially in terms of the occupational risks faced day-to-day.

Individuals on the front lines, whether they’re taking care of patients or stocking grocery shelves, are placing themselves at risk to ensure our communities can continue to run smoothly. Meanwhile, those fortunate enough to work from home can help flatten the curve by continuing to practice safe social distancing, even on weekends.

The Full List

For reference, we’ve also provided the full list of nearly 1,000 occupations, including jobs with fewer than 20,000 workers. The average risk score of the following 966 jobs is 30.2.

coronavirus nature environment climate change cities urban life streets deserted pollution traffic cars noise air clean
Despite the high risk, many workers like those in healthcare must stay working. Image: Visual Capitalist
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World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Health and Healthcare SystemsJobs and the Future of WorkGlobal Risks
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