Deprivation and exposure to public activities during the COVID-19 pandemic in England and Wales

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BACKGROUND: Differential exposure to public activities may contribute to stark deprivation-related inequalities in SARS-CoV-2 infection and outcomes but has not been directly investigated. We set out to investigate whether participants in Virus Watch-a large community cohort study based in England and Wales-reported differential exposure to public activities and non-household contacts during the autumn-winter phase of the COVID-19 pandemic according to postcode-level socioeconomic deprivation. METHODS: Participants (n=20 120-25 228 across surveys) reported their daily activities during 3 weekly periods in late November 2020, late December 2020 and mid-February 2021. Deprivation was quantified based on participants' residential postcode using English or Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation quintiles. We used Poisson mixed-effect models with robust standard errors to estimate the relationship between deprivation and risk of exposure to public activities during each survey period. RESULTS: Relative to participants in the least deprived areas, participants in the most deprived areas exhibited elevated risk of exposure to vehicle sharing (adjusted risk ratio (aRR) range across time points: 1.73-8.52), public transport (aRR: 3.13-5.73), work or education outside of the household (aRR: 1.09-1.21), essential shops (aRR: 1.09-1.13) and non-household contacts (aRR: 1.15-1.19) across multiple survey periods. CONCLUSION: Differential exposure to essential public activities-such as attending workplaces and visiting essential shops-is likely to contribute to inequalities in infection risk and outcomes. Public health interventions to reduce exposure during essential activities and financial and practical support to enable low-paid workers to stay at home during periods of intense transmission may reduce COVID-related inequalities.

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Beale, S., Braithwaite, I., Navaratnam, A. M., Hardelid, P., Rodger, A., Aryee, A., … Hayward, A. (2022). Deprivation and exposure to public activities during the COVID-19 pandemic in England and Wales. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 76(4), 319–326.

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