UBC economists create tool to measure COVID-19 risk in B.C. jobs

Researchers at the Vancouver School of Economics have created a novel tool to assess the risks and benefits of reopening different sectors of British Columbia’s economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The VSE COVID-19 Risk/Reward Assessment Tool has been shared with the B.C. government and public health officials with the goal of informing policy recommendations for restarting work.

“Provincial governments across Canada could tailor this tool to their province’s employment and GDP numbers, and use it to inform their reopening strategy,” said Henry Siu, an economist at the University of British Columbia and a member of the VSE research team. “There are other risk measures out there, but very little that gives the combination of risk and reward.”

Henry Siu

Henry Siu

The tool analyzes the benefits of reopening relative to the viral transmission risk in more than 300 occupations in over 100 industries. The benefits to reopening are based on an industry’s employment numbers, economic value and supply chain centrality, which refers to its impact on the output of other sectors.

Risk is measured based on the risk factors of each job, such as:

  • physical proximity to others
  • number of face-to-face contacts
  • whether the work is done indoors or out, among other factors

Risk is also measured based on the risks for the average worker in each job, such as:

  • whether they commute on public transit
  • live with healthcare workers
  • live in a crowded dwelling, among other factors

“The food service sector is important economically because of large job losses, but not as important when measured by centrality,” said UBC economist David Green. “Barbers and hair stylists are higher risk, but not very central. In contrast, truck and delivery drivers are medium risk but higher in centrality.”

Green said it’s the combination of all of these factors that should be considered together when determining which sectors should open and how they should operate safely once they do. The tool can help identify where risk-reduction measures will be most needed and most effective.

David Green

David Green

In the food service industry, some jobs are riskier than others. Restaurant managers, for example, have a riskier role than cooks or even servers, as they roam throughout the restaurant and interact with people, so their position scores higher in the index. The tool also shows that construction workers are more likely to live with someone who works in the healthcare sector, increasing the risk score for that occupation.

Among the riskiest occupations: dentists, dental hygienists, physiotherapists, doctors, and nurses. Occupations with moderate risk include construction workers, couriers and sheet metal workers. The occupations least at risk include software engineers, graphic designers, and logging machinery operators.

The researchers developed the tool using Statistics Canada data from the Labour Force Survey, and the 2016 Census linked to a database with occupational definitions.

The VSE COVID-19 Risk/Reward Assessment Tool is one of several research projects related to COVID-19 being conducted by the Vancouver School of Economics. The VSE team is also working on jointly modelling the paths of the virus and the economy under different policies, and on studies about industry centrality, inequality and poverty impacts, among other topics. For more on their work, visit covid19.economics.ubc.ca

Professor Henry Siu is available for media interviews Tuesday, May 19 from 9 AM – 11 AM PST. To request an interview with Prof. Siu, please contact Corey Allen at [email protected].