J Occup Environ Hyg. 2021 Apr-May;18(4-5):169-179. doi: 10.1080/15459624.2021.1901905. Epub 2021 Apr 16.
The coronavirus pandemic has taken a detrimental toll on the lives of individuals globally. In addition to the direct effect (e.g., being infected with the virus), this pandemic has negatively ravaged many industries, particularly food retail, food services, and hospitality. Given the novelty of the disease, the true impact of COVID-19 remains to be determined. Because of the nature of their work, and the characteristics of the workers, individuals in the food retail, food service, and hospitality industries are a group whose vulnerability is at its most fragile state during this pandemic. Through this qualitative study, we explored workers’ perspectives on the impact of COVID-19 on their mental health and coping, including screening for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol use disorder symptoms. Twenty-seven individual interviews were conducted, audio-recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using qualitative content analysis. Four key themes emerged: being infected and infecting others, the unknown, isolation, and work and customer demands. Considering the many uncertainties of COVID-19, workers in these three industries were experiencing heightened levels of mental distress because of where they worked and the already existing disparities they faced on a daily basis before the pandemic started. Yet they remained hopeful for a better future. More studies are needed to fully understand the magnitude, short-term, and long-term effects of COVID-19. Based on this study’s findings, programs are critically needed to promote positive coping behaviors among at-risk and distressed workers. Recommendations for employers, occupational health and safety professionals, and policy stakeholders to further support these service workers are discussed.