16 September 2020

Occupations and industries: what are the risks of transmission of COVID-19?

A tool for dealing with the second wave adapted for Quebec by CIRANO Researchers


Marie Connolly and Catherine Haeck, both Professors at ESG UQAM and CIRANO Researchers, and Pierre-Loup Beauregard, Doctoral Student at the Vancouver School of Economics, have adapted for Quebec a tool for visualizing risks by occupation and industry related to COVID-19 (tool developed by researchers at the Vancouver School of Economics).


The spread of COVID-19 around the world triggered a series of exceptional measures to curb the transmission of the virus: closures of public places, businesses, shops and schools, border closures, massive recourse to teleworking. These measures have helped to "flatten the curve" of the disease's progression, but they have had a high cost on economic activity in the country.


The question is therefore how to manage the situation for the coming months, to contain the health crisis, but avoiding a generalized containment that would add to the economic costs of the first wave. Which sectors are most at risk? Which professions put their workers in situations that favour the spread of the virus? If parts of the economy are to be closed down, how can this be done with all the data in hand to make informed decisions?


Marie Connolly explains: "Our tool allows a better understanding of the relationship between the risks of virus transmission and the economy. It can be used to

  • guide decisions regarding the reopening of sectors and subsequent closures related to a possible second wave;
  • help identify occupations at risk within industries and find ways to mitigate those risks."


On which indicators is the tool based?

The tool looks at the characteristics of the occupations most likely to promote the transmission of the virus, but also at the characteristics of the workers themselves and their living environment. "A risk index for viral transmission was calculated for each occupation and integrates different factors such as physical proximity, exposure to disease, contact with others, face-to-face discussions, use of public transit, living in crowded housing or living with a health care worker." points out Catherine Haeck.

Concretely, by cross-referencing the viral transmission risk index (created from the characteristics of occupations and workers) with several indicators of the importance of economic sectors, the tool enables policy makers to identify occupations and industries that require special attention in a possible second wave.


What can we learn from the tool?

The following are some examples of findings and highlights from the analysis of the tool's data:

  • health is a particularly high-risk area. In the event of a second wave, it will be important to focus on continuity of employment for qualified people.
  • The manufacturing sector has a significant weight in the Quebec economy and presents relatively low risks of viral transmission. Manufacturing is therefore a key sector for economic recovery, while ensuring that adequate protective measures are put in place.
  • Wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing and construction are three industries with low risk indices. Their closure would likely not reduce viral transmission enough to justify closure in the event of a second wave.
  • The accommodation and food service sector is one of those most affected by containment measures, with job losses of more than 50% between February and April 2020. With a high VIDOC-19 risk index, reopening this industry is a major challenge. Restricting activities in this sector is certainly unfavourable for restaurant and hotel operators, but the impact on the economy is less than what would be observed by restricting activities in other sectors.


The tool also allows to identify some interesting dynamics. For example, it shows that some professions have been disproportionately affected by school closures: early childhood educators, licensed practical nurses, elementary and secondary school teachers, dental hygienists and therapists, police officers, computer systems managers, and human resources managers.


The tool developed is a useful and essential tool as a source of evidence to inform employment and economic decisions.


More information

Consult the site of the dynamic visualization tool on the CIRANO Website

Consult the Insights article (French only): Professions et industries : quels sont les risques de transmission de la COVID-19 ? Un outil pour faire face à la deuxième vague, Pierre-Loup Beauregard, Marie Connolly and Catherine Haeck, August 2020, PE2020-40