Oakland, CA – After trending down over the first half of this year and falling to a 16-month low of just 676 claims in June, the monthly tally of new COVID-19 claims in the California workers’ compensation system spiked to 2,581 cases in July, just shy of the combined total of 2,635 COVID claims recorded for the prior three months. That translates to a nearly four-fold increase in one month, the biggest monthly gain since COVID-19 claim volume hit its peak in December 2020. Claims with June and July injury dates are still coming in, but California Workers’ Compensation Institute (CWCI) projections based on historical reporting patterns estimate that ultimately the COVID-19 claim count for July will hit 3,872 cases, or 4.8 times the projected total of 811 claims for June.
Notably, July was the first full month following the June 15 reopening of the California economy, a move that coincided with a wave of COVID-19 infections fueled by the emergence of the highly infectious Delta variant. The state’s reopening plan allowed most businesses to fully reopen and brought many Californians who had been working remotely back into offices and other worksites. July was also the first full month following the June 17 adoption and implementation of revised emergency health and safety standards designed to protect workers from COVID-19. Those standards, adopted following contentious public meetings, apply to most California workers not covered by Cal/OSHA’s standard for aerosol transmissible diseases. Among other things, the revised standards allowed fully vaccinated employees to not wear face coverings (but required unvaccinated employees to mask up when in a room or vehicle with other employees) and eliminated the physical distance requirement in non-outbreak settings. With the recent surge in COVID infections and hospitalizations, several local jurisdictions and entities around the state enacted their own mandates in regard to masking and employee vaccinations, and on July 26 Governor Newsom issued an order that is being phased in this month requiring nearly a quarter million state employees as well as public and private health care workers to be vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID tests. Two days later the California Department of Health (CDPH) issued revised guidance for the use of indoor face coverings, which recommended universal masking indoors statewide, and this week, the governor announced a new CDPH order would extend the vaccinate-or-test requirement to encompass an additional 320,000 school employees in the state, giving public and private K-12 schools until October 15 to fully comply with the order.
While the recent resurgence of California workers’ compensation COVID-19 claims has been broad-based, a CWCI analysis of June and July COVID claims data reveals that the extent of the surge varied by region and industry. Comparing June and July claim volume by region, the Institute confirmed that much of the July surge in COVID claims occurred in the state’s metropolitan job centers, led by Los Angeles County, which accounts for more than a quarter of all jobs in the state. In June, COVID-19 workers’ comp claim volume in Los Angeles County had fallen to 128 cases, or 18.9% of the statewide total, ranking it behind the Central Valley (22.0%), the Bay Area (20.1%), and the Inland Empire/Orange County (19.4%). But in July, L.A. County’s COVID claim volume soared to 621 claims, nearly 5 times its June total, and it surpassed every other region of the state as its share of the statewide COVID claim count rose to 24.1%.
The review of COVID claims by industry found that while public safety/government workers continued to account for more claims than any other sector as their claim total increased from 144 claims in June to 546 claims in July, that growth rate was in line with the statewide increase, so their share of the COVID claim total remained at just over 21%. Meanwhile, COVID claims among for health care workers were also up, increasing from 124 claims in June to 456 in July, but that was slightly less than the statewide growth rate, so the health care sector’s share of the statewide total dipped from 18.3% to 17.7%. The transportation sector, on the other hand, saw the biggest increase in its share of the COVID claims, as it went from 59 claims in June to 352 claims in July, a 6-fold increase that moved it ahead of both the retail and the food service sectors, making it the number 3 industry sector for COVID claims last month.
The public can view additional data on the latest California workers’ compensation COVID-19 claims data by clicking here to access CWCI’s COVID-19/Non-COVID 19 Interactive Data Application. CWCI members and subscribers also may log on to the Institute’s website to view a more detailed summary and analysis of the latest COVID-19 claims data in Bulletin 21-11, which is posted under the Communications tab.