For some jobs, social distancing isn’t an option.
“We do concrete. We got to be next to each other,” said construction worker Manuel Villalobos.
Villalobos’s crew often operates heavy equipment in teams on sites where PPE isn’t always worn.
“We got to wear our masks, too,” he said. “But some of us, they don’t use it.”
Other workplaces of concern include professional kitchens, where cooks are often crammed together, working the line.
At Rijoa, an award-winning restaurant in Denver, Colorado, owner Jennifer Jasinski is taking all the safety precautions she can to protect her staff, including social distancing her line cooks.
“We have chosen to kind of go above and beyond the call of duty,” she said. “We upgraded our air handling systems. We have a new carrier system at Rioja that is supposed to kill 99.9% of anything in the air.”
Jasinski also created a temperature log for staff and added more sanitation stations throughout her kitchen.
“We have just kind of a heightened awareness of everything, and we’ve been very safe so far and let’s hope we stay safe,” she said.
This extra protection is proving to be well worth it as a new studyfound line cooks are suffering the greatest risk of dying from COVID-19.
“These are individuals who are part of families, who are taking on disproportionate risk to keep all of us safe,” said Kate Duchowny, PhD, with the University of California, San Francisco.
After examining death certificates, her team discovered working adults ages 18 to 65 had about a 22% increase in deaths during the pandemic. That number almost doubled for cooks.
“You could infer these are unprotected workers who are really experiencing the brunt while simultaneously keeping our economy going during this time,” Duchowny said.
Some of the deadliest jobs during the pandemic include workers in agriculture, transportation and construction. Latinx workers experienced an even greater increase in mortality.
“Among Latinos, we observed close to 60% increase in the risk of dying in 2020 compared to previous years,” Duchowny said.
While this study focused on deaths in California, Duchowny says it mirrors what’s happening nationwide.
“I think that we can reasonably extrapolate that the message from this study is that essential workers everywhere need to be treated as that, essential,” she said.
For restaurants like Rioja, that means continuing to protect employees and advocating to get them vaccinated.
“We’d love for this to be over,” Jasinski said. “But it’s not over yet so we have to stay strong.”