Association between SARS-CoV-2 Infection, Exposure Risk and Mental Health among a Cohort of Essential Retail Workers in the United States

Journal Article
  • Fan-Yun Lan
  • Christian Suharlim
  • Stefanos N. Kales
  • Justin Yang
June 2020. DOI:


Objectives: To investigate SARS-CoV-2 (the virus causing COVID-19) infection and exposure risks among grocery retail workers, and to investigate their mental health state during the pandemic.

Methods: This cross-sectional study was conducted in May 2020 in a single grocery retail store in Massachusetts, USA. We assessed workers’ personal/occupational history and perception of COVID-19 by questionnaire. The health outcomes were measured by nasopharyngeal SARS-CoV-2 reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) results, GAD-7 (General Anxiety Disorder-7) and PHQ-9 (Patient Health Questionnaire-9).

Results: Among 104 workers tested, twenty-one (20%) had positive viral assays. Seventy-six percent positive cases were asymptomatic. After multi-variate adjustments, employees with direct customer exposure had an odds of 4.7 (95% CI 1.2 to 32.0) being tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, while smokers had an odds of 0.1 (95% CI 0.01 to 0.8) having positive assay. As to mental health, the prevalence of anxiety and depression (i.e. GAD-7 score > 4 or PHQ-9 score >4) was 24% and 8%, respectively. After adjusting for potential confounders, those able to practice social distancing consistently at work had odds of 0.2 (95% CI 0.1 to 0.7) and 0.1 (95% CI 0.01 to 0.6) screening positive for anxiety and depression, respectively.

Conclusions: We found a considerable asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection rate among grocery workers. Employees with direct costumer exposure were 5 times more likely to test positive for SARS-CoV-2, while cigarette smokers were 90% less likely to have positive assays. Those able to practice social distancing consistently at work had significantly lower risk of anxiety or depression.