Given the high concentration of COVID-19 cases in long-term care (LTC) facilities in the United States, individuals working in these facilities are at heightened risk of SARS-CoV-2 exposure. Using data from the nationally-representative 2017 and 2018 National Health Interview Surveys on adults who reported working in LTC facilities, this study examines the extent to which LTC workers are also at increased risk or potentially at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 including hospitalization, intubation, or death. We used the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s list of conditions placing individuals in these risk categories to the extent possible. We also examined the sociodemographic characteristics of LTC workers by occupation and COVID-19 illness severity risk status.
One percent (552 out of 52,159) of the weighted NHIS sample worked in LTC facilities. Workers in LTC facilities were disproportionately Black, female, and low income. Half of LTC workers (50%) were at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and another 19.6% were potentially at increased risk. There were few significant differences in demographic characteristics between risk groups, though those at increased risk had lower educational attainment and recent trouble affording prescription medications.
Despite the high degree of vulnerability of both LTC residents and workers to severe illness from COVID-19, many LTC facilities still have inadequate supplies of personal protective equipment and COVID-19 tests. Given that state budget deficits due to the COVID-19 pandemic limit the potential for state actions, enhanced federal efforts are needed to protect LTC residents and staff from COVID-19.