University of Wisconsin–Madison Medical College of Wisconsin

Work and Life in the Balance: COVID-19 Mortality by Usual Occupation and Industry in Wisconsin

Paul D. Creswell, PhD; Komi K. S. Modji, MD, MPH; Collin R. Morris, BS; Katherine E. McCoy, PhD

WMJ. 2023;122(5):382-389

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Introduction: Work is central to the discourse surrounding the pandemic. Going to work during the COVID-19 pandemic put individuals at risk for both disease and death. This study assesses COVID-19 mortality by industry and occupation for working-age adults in Wisconsin and applies a health equity lens to understand COVID-19, demographics, work, and mortality in the state.

Methods: We used vital records data to evaluate COVID-19 mortality in Wisconsin. We assessed the demographics of working-age decedents using chi-square tests and logistic regression. We also classified decedents by usual occupation with Standard Occupational Classification (2018) and North American Industry Classification System (2017) codes to calculate mortality rates. We then calculated proportional mortality ratios to evaluate if mortality rates from COVID-19 in industry or occupation groups were significantly higher than the overall (ie, average) mortality rate from COVID-19 among all working-age Wisconsin adults.

Results: Both Asian/Pacific Islander and Hispanic individuals in Wisconsin had elevated likelihoods of dying from COVID-19. Lower levels of education also were associated with a higher likelihood of COVID-19–attributable death. Additionally, we found several occupations and industries that had elevated mortality rates from COVID-19. Proportional mortality ratios showed higher than expected mortality for several occupations including Protective Service; Office and Administrative Support; Farming, Fishing, and Forestry; and Installation, Maintenance, and Repair. Moreover, several industries had elevated proportional mortality ratios, including Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, and Hunting; Finance and Insurance; Transportation and Warehousing; and Public Administration.

Discussion: The lessons of the pandemic are important for public health and worker safety. Understanding who bears disparate risks allows us to prepare, communicate, and mitigate risk.

Author Affiliations: University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison, Wisconsin (Creswell, Modji, McCoy); Bureau of Environmental and Occupational Health, Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Madison, Wis (Creswell, Modji, Morris, McCoy).
Corresponding Author: Katherine E. McCoy, PhD, Occupational Health and Safety Surveillance Program Manager/Unit Supervisor, Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Bureau of Environmental and Occupational Health, 1 W Wilson St, Room 150, Madison, WI 53703; email; ORCID ID 0000-0001-8939-8550
Acknowledgements: The authors would like to acknowledge the following individuals for their assistance with the creation of this manuscript. Yanni Liang, Peter DeJonge, Rainah Adams, and Kelly Longhini of the Bureau of Environmental and Occupational Health at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services provided manuscript review and feedback. Jennifer Feske, Laura Ninneman, and Xioyan Wang at the Wisconsin Vital Records Office provided invaluable assistance with the vital records data.
Financial Disclosures: None declared.
Funding/Support: This work was supported by the Wisconsin Expanded Program Occupational Health Surveillance Project: NIOSH Award 5 U60OH010898-07-00 and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity Project O: Enhanced Surveillance for Vaccine-Preventable Disease and Respiratory Diseases.
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