Who is at highest risk of exposure to COVID-19? Firefighters, drivers, pharmacists, cooks

Central Alberta firefighter says virus taking toll on mental health

The risk of contracting the novel coronavirus is high for most workers – but even higher for some occupations such as nurses, firefighters and pharmacists.

On top of that, the virus is mentally draining – says a central Alberta firefighter Brad Readman.

Alberta Federation of Labour, with the help of data experts, has identified the potential risk for coronavirus exposure for hundreds of different occupations and created a list of the top 100 Alberta jobs where COVID-19 risk is highest.

Based on the analysis, the Albertan workers considered to be at extreme risk include healthcare workers such as registered nurses, doctors, dentists, veterinarians, optometrists, allied health professionals, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, dental hygienists and paramedics.

Many other workers face significant risk of contracting COVID-19 in their workplaces such as police officers, firefighters, and other first responders, as well as, workers who regularly deal with the public such as bus and taxi drivers, recreation and fitness workers, librarians, delivery workers and those in food services and cashiers.

Readman, president of Alberta Fire Fighters Association, said firefighters across the province are taking precautions such as temperature checks, social distancing and wearing proper personal protective equipment.

“Everyone who comes into fire stations (at the beginning of their shift) do an assessment like checking temperatures, answering a questionnaire of any signs or symptoms,” Readman said, to keep everyone safe.

“We’ve changed our procedures in regards to who responds to calls, we’ve divided up crews to ensure only the necessary people are going into and being exposed to a patient with COVID.”

Firefighters have complained in the past about masks of substandard quality citing they didn’t stay up as well as had a funky odour.

“Anytime you talked, they just fall down,” Readman said, adding the new batch of masks is still coming.

He said the risk remains high, noting the risk ranking for firefighters is at 71, according to the list, and 73.5 for fire chiefs and senior firefighting officers.

The virus has a risk to both physical and mental health, Readman said.

“It wears on them – it’s heightened awareness all the time – say (previously) there’s a call about a broken arm, not it’s a broken arm with COVID and that just amplifies the risk,” Readman.

There are also concerns of bringing the virus home to spouses and children – especially during this time when kids are spending time at home.

Roughly there are 20 to 30 firefighters throughout the province who are in self isolation, mostly due to community and workplace exposures.

According to the provincial list, other occupations that face an extreme risk for contracting COVID-19 are correctional officers and flight attendants.

The list of workers at significant risk also includes construction workers and people who work in the trades, as well as musicians, dancers, actors, cashiers, cleaning supervisors, janitors, cooks, plumbers and massage therapists.

Workers whose job is to provide help and care for others also face significant risk including employment counsellors, early childhood educators, social workers, home support workers, translators, and school teachers and counsellors.

Workers who deliver personal services such as hairstylists and barbers, massage therapists, chiropractors, and dietitians are also on the list.

“I’ve said from the beginning with this virus will have the biggest toll on mental health, not only for first responders, but for public as a whole,” said Readman.


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