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.
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.
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.
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.