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New Data Confirms NYC’s Service Workers Are Most Vulnerable to COVID-19, Including in Food

Many of the city’s service workers live in the outer boroughs, where commutes on public transit can be longer

A sign with the word “end” in all capital letters stands in front of the New York City skyline Gary He/Eater

New numbers out of the city’s health department confirm that service workers, including those working in the food industry, are among the most vulnerable for contracting COVID-19, according to an analysis of data by local news publication The City.

The analysis includes other service jobs, as well — like construction workers and child care staff — so it’s not clear how much of the pool is made up by food workers. It’s based on a new map released by the Health Department on Wednesday breaks down the number of positive novel coronavirus cases by zip code, with outer neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx seeing especially high numbers.

Still, the vulnerability of the city’s essential services workers should not come as a revelation. Many of the city’s these service workers, including restaurant and grocery store employees, live in New York City’s outer boroughs, where commutes on public transit can be long and risk for exposure is currently higher. In neighborhoods like Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and Corona, for example, people who work in the service sector account for 38 percent of the working population, compared to the city-wide average of 18 percent, the City finds.

The high number of cases may be partly a result of public transit. In wealthier parts of Manhattan, ridership at MTA stations has plummeted in recent weeks, as many white-collar residents telecommute into work and avoid using public transit altogether. Those living in parts of the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn, however, have lived a markedly different last two weeks, with many still having to commute into work on the bus and subway long after advisories from city and state officials.

As a result of the heightened risk of exposure, many service workers in the food industry have called for additional precautionary measures, including additional sick time and hazard pay.

On Monday, workers who fulfill orders for grocery delivery service Instacart protested what they saw as inadequate safety measures and insufficient pay. That same day, some Whole Foods employees held a sick-out demanding hazard pay during the public health crisis. Others, like workers at Trader Joe’s, have simply been asking to wear gloves and masks while at work and for at-risk crew members to have extended paid sick time leave. Find a running list of the nation’s food and food delivery strikes here.

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