Nearly One in Four Workers are at High Risk of Serious Illness with COVID-19, Posing Challenges for Employers as They Reopen 

A new KFF analysis finds nearly one in four workers (24%) are considered at high risk of serious illness if they get infected by the novel coronavirus, highlighting the challenges that businesses, public offices and other employers face as they move toward reopening.

The analysis estimates 37.7 million workers (based on their work status in 2018) are at high risk of serious illness from COVID-19.  This includes 10 million who are at least 65 years old and an additional 27.7 million who have pre-existing medical conditions that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says put people at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Many of these people may be out of work right now or working remotely, but would be at greater risk if they had to return to in-person work.

“As an employer, I know that employers are largely on their own to develop policies to reopen safely,” KFF President and CEO Drew Altman said. “These data suggest employers should take into account the higher risk some workers will face, allowing them to work at home where possible, to be tested and to minimize their risks if they return to work.”

The analysis also estimates that 12 million more at-risk adults who do not work themselves live in households with workers. For this group, indirect exposure could be just as serious of a risk as going to work themselves.

The estimates are based on KFF’s analysis of data from the 2018 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). Workers deemed at high risk based on the CDC’s criteria include those who are at least 65 years old, as well as those with diabetes, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, a body mass index above 40, or have a functional limitation related to cancer.

More data, analysis, polling and journalism related to the COVID-19 epidemic is available at kff.org.