Workplace contact patterns in England during the COVID-19 pandemic: Analysis of the Virus Watch prospective cohort study

Virus Watch Collaborative

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

Background: Workplaces are an important potential source of SARS-CoV-2 exposure; however, investigation into workplace contact patterns is lacking. This study aimed to investigate how workplace attendance and features of contact varied between occupations across the COVID-19 pandemic in England. Methods: Data were obtained from electronic contact diaries (November 2020-November 2021) submitted by employed/self-employed prospective cohort study participants (n=4,616). We used mixed models to investigate the effects of occupation and time for: workplace attendance, number of people sharing workspace, time spent sharing workspace, number of close contacts, and usage of face coverings. Findings: Workplace attendance and contact patterns varied across occupations and time. The predicted probability of intense space sharing during the day was highest for healthcare (78% [95% CI: 75–81%]) and education workers (64% [59%–69%]), who also had the highest probabilities for larger numbers of close contacts (36% [32%–40%] and 38% [33%–43%] respectively). Education workers also demonstrated relatively low predicted probability (51% [44%–57%]) of wearing a face covering during close contact. Across all occupational groups, workspace sharing and close contact increased and usage of face coverings decreased during phases of less stringent restrictions. Interpretation: Major variations in workplace contact patterns and mask use likely contribute to differential COVID-19 risk. Patterns of variation by occupation and restriction phase may inform interventions for future waves of COVID-19 or other respiratory epidemics. Across occupations, increasing workplace contact and reduced face covering usage is concerning given ongoing high levels of community transmission and emergence of variants.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100352
JournalThe Lancet Regional Health - Europe
Volume16
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by funding from the PROTECT COVID-19 National Core Study on transmission and environment, managed by the Health and Safety Executive on behalf of HM Government. The Virus Watch study is supported by the MRC Grant Ref: MC_PC 19070 awarded to UCL on 30 March 2020 and MRC Grant Ref: MR/V028375/1 awarded on 17 August 2020. The study also received $15,000 of Facebook advertising credit to support a pilot social media recruitment campaign on 18th August 2020. This study was also supported by the Wellcome Trust through a Wellcome Clinical Research Career Development Fellowship to RA [206602]. SB and TB are supported by an MRC doctoral studentship (MR/N013867/1). The funders had no role in study design, data collection, analysis and interpretation, in the writing of this report, or in the decision to submit the paper for publication.

Funding Information:
This work was supported by funding from the PROTECT COVID-19 National Core Study on transmission and environment, managed by the Health and Safety Executive on behalf of HM Government. The Virus Watch study is supported by the MRC Grant Ref: MC_PC 19070 awarded to UCL on 30 March 2020 and MRC Grant Ref: MR/V028375/1 awarded on 17 August 2020. The study also received $15,000 of Facebook advertising credit to support a pilot social media recruitment campaign on 18th August 2020. This study was also supported by the Wellcome Trust through a Wellcome Clinical Research Career Development Fellowship to RA [206602]. SB and TB are supported by an MRC doctoral studentship (MR/N013867/1). The funders had no role in study design, data collection, analysis and interpretation, in the writing of this report, or in the decision to submit the paper for publication. We aim to share aggregate data from this project on our website and via a "Findings so far" section on our website - https://ucl-virus-watch.net/. We will also be sharing individual record level data on a research data sharing service such as the Office of National Statistics Secure Research Service. In sharing the data we will work within the principles set out in the UKRI Guidance on best practice in the management of research data. Access to use of the data whilst research is being conducted will be managed by the Chief Investigators (ACH and RWA) in accordance with the principles set out in the UKRI guidance on best practice in the management of research data. We will put analysis code on publicly available repositories to enable their reuse. Conceptualization (SB, MVT, RA, AH), Data curation (SB, VN, AY, EF, CG), Formal Analysis (SB), Funding acquisition (RA, AH, MVT), Methodology (SB, SH, RA, AH), Project administration (JK), Software (VN, CG), Supervision (EF, RA, AH), Validation (VN), Visualization (SB), Writing – original draft (SB), Writing – reviewing and editing (all)

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • Epidemiology
  • Occupation
  • Public health

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