While many of us have hunkered down in ours homes with stocks of soap, toilet paper (or lack thereof), canned foods, and news updates, other people aren’t able to hide from the coronavirus. They are on the frontlines of attack against this pandemic, and this puts them in great danger of contracting the illness themselves. These are the heroes who can’t work from home since their work involves helping others and often saving lives. They are the most needed in this time of uncertainty — and they are the most at risk.
Professions on the Coronavirus Forefront
The New York Times calculated information from O*NET, a database maintained by the Department of Labor, to determine which professions are the most at risk and turned it onto an interactive spreadsheet. Each job was given 2 numbers, each out of 100 based on exposure to the disease and physical proximity respectively. We’ve put some of these numbers in brackets beside the occupation. Here are their findings:
The jobs at highest risk for being exposed to the coronavirus include:
- Dental hygienists (100, 100)
- Dentists (95, 99)
- Paramedics (89, 97)
- Nurses (80, 77)
- Flight attendants
- Personal care aides
- Physicians and surgeons (61, 32)
- Police officers (61, 73)
- Garbage collectors
- Janitors (47, 48)
- Childcare workers
- Cashiers (28, 75)
- Loggers (1, 7) 
Dentists, paramedics, and flight attendants are the occupations that involve close physical proximity to others.
The workers that are most often exposed to diseases and infection are dentists, paramedics, nurses, flight attendants, and couriers. Dentists, paramedics, and flight attendants also closest in proximity to people as opposed to other jobs.
It’s imperative to note that health care workers are at the greatest risk for contracting the coronavirus, just as they are at risk for catching other the diseases and infections they help treat while being in close proximity with their patients. Many of them are under quarantine because of their exposure to COVID-19.
This is concerning as health care workers may become scarce as a result. In just Vacaville, California, one case of the virus sent over 200 hospital workers into quarantine. They couldn’t work for weeks. Dozens more have been sent home because of potential contagion when over 80 coronavirus cases were confirmed.
As the number of confirmed cases grow, this practice could leave hospitals understaffed and overwhelmed. The health care community is now debating the standards required for sending workers home, as well as protective protocols that should be brought to clinics and emergency rooms.
“It’s just not sustainable to think that every time a health care worker is exposed they have to be quarantined for 14 days. We’d run out of health care workers,” says Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. She believes that anyone showing symptoms should stay home but those who were merely exposed to the virus should continue to work. 
Dr. Richard Waldhorn, a professor of medicine at Georgetown University and contributing scholar at Johns Hopkins, recently co-authored a paper with Eric Toner, MD, on how U.S. hospitals should prepare for the coronavirus pandemic based on their research of the 1918 influenza epidemic.
This is their definition of being prepared: “Every hospital, in collaboration with other hospitals and public health agencies, will be able to provide appropriate care to COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization while maintaining other essential medical services in the community, both during and after a pandemic.”
Besides being quarantined for exposure, health care workers are at high risk of contracting the disease themselves. They also may need to stay home to care for sick relatives, and maybe afraid of coming to the hospital and bring the virus home to their loved ones. 
Other Findings from Database
Personal care aides and home health aides who help the elderly — who are extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 — are also at risk. One nursing home in Washington State had 70 workers fell ill with symptoms resembling the coronavirus after six residents became ill.
“The amount of work and stress that these staff and employees and caregivers are under is tremendous,” said Tim Killian, a spokesman for the care center. “They truly are heroes.” 
First responders are also at risk, and not just paramedics, firefighters and police officers are too. Firefighters who have responded to a nursing home in Washington state have been placed in extended quarantine. 
Schools around the country have been closing, and for good reason, since teachers are both rated high for being exposed to illnesses and having proximity to other people.
Service workers like cashiers and fast-food workers are at high risk. Walmart, Starbucks, and Ubers are among the many companies that have workers who had fallen sick. This has led to companies enforcing preventative measures, but this announcement has brought the pandemic close to home for many people.  Despite the elevated risk, many workers have low-paying jobs with no sick leave, which may motivate some to come to work sick so they won’t lose any income.
The Necessity of Low-Paid Workers
It may seem erroneous to some to lump jobs like paramedics, pilots, and police officers with lower-paying jobs like cashiers and janitors. It might just show that in times of need, those who were ‘dispensable’ become vital for society to continue to function. Just imagine how the world might look today without these hardworking people, with no one manning the grocery store checkouts and no one cleaning public buildings.
If these statistics leave only one impression, let it be this: Be grateful and respectful to people in these low-paying jobs. We need them. Badly.
- Lazaro Gamio. The Workers Who Face the Greatest Coronavirus Risk NY Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/03/15/business/economy/coronavirus-worker-risk.html March 15, 2020
- Jenny Gold. Scarcity Of Health Workers A New Concern As Self-Quarantining Spreads With Virus. Jenny Gold. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/03/09/813557328/scarcity-of-health-workers-a-new-concern-as-self-quarantining-spreads-with-virus March 9, 2020
- Eric Toner, MD, and Richard Waldhorn, MD. What US Hospitals Should Do Now to Prepare for a COVID-19 Pandemic. Johns Hopkins. Center for Health Security. http://www.centerforhealthsecurity.org/cbn/2020/cbnreport-02272020.html February 27, 2020.
- Mike Baker. Nursing Home Hit by Coronavirus Says 70 Workers Are Sick. NY Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/07/us/coronavirus-nursing-home.html March 8, 2020
- Jake Tapper. Washington firefighters who responded to nursing home face longer quarantine as bottlenecks delay testing. CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/2020/03/10/politics/coronavirus-washington-life-care-center-nursing-home-testing/index.html March 10, 2020
- Melissa Repko. Walmart, Starbucks and others face a new coronavirus challenge: Sick workers and fearful customers. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/10/coronavirus-walmart-and-others-cope-with-sick-workers-fearful-customers.html March 10, 2020
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