Working in an office instead of remotely may double COVID-19 risk, CDC reports

A transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, also known as the 2019 novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the United States. Note the crown-like spikes on the outer edge of the virus, hence the term "coron (NIAID-RML)

Employees may be more likely to become infected with the novel coronavirus in an office setting rather than working from home, according to a new report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Thursday.

Public health officials interviewed about 300 people who took a COVID-19 test in July and compared the telework between those who tested positive or negative for COVID-19.

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“Participants were asked ‘In the 14 days prior to becoming ill, were you: Going into an office/school regularly; Working from home/teleworking; Both,” the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report noted.

Researchers found that workers who reported exclusively going into an office in the two weeks prior to getting sick were nearly twice as likely to test positive for the virus.

“Adults who received positive test results for SARS-CoV-2 infection were more likely to report exclusively going to an office or school setting in the 2 weeks before illness onset, compared with those who tested negative, even among those working in a profession outside of the critical infrastructure,” the CDC researchers wrote.

Thirty-five percent of individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 worked from home or teleworked part-time, while 65% of those who tested positive went into an office regularly.

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“Businesses and employers should promote alternative work site options, such as teleworking, where possible, to reduce exposures to SARS-CoV-2. Where telework options are not feasible, worker safety measures should continue to be scaled up to reduce possible worksite exposures,” the CDC authors wrote. “Characterizing work from home experiences as well as exploring workplace exposures alongside other community exposures will be critical to understanding the impact of mitigation efforts on COVID-19 incidence.”

Limitations of the study included the potential differences between those who refused or were not eligible for the study versus those who participated.

On Saturday, the United States recorded more than 120,000 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Saturday, breaking the previous single-day record, and the fourth consecutive day for new cases over 100,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.