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Workers' Compensation

California Workers’ Comp COVID-19 Claim Volume Trending Down After Summer Surge

Oakland – The summer surge – or fourth wave – of COVID-19 claims that hit the California workers’ compensation system in July and August appears to have run its course as the number of claims reported to the state Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) in September and October has receded sharply, with the projected ultimate claim count for October falling to 3,621 cases, down nearly 56% from the 8,197 claims projected for the summer peak in August.

New figures from the California Workers’ Compensation Institute’s COVID-19/Non-COVID-19 Interactive Application, based on claims reported to the DWC as of November 15, show that after declining steadily from January through May of this year, the number of work-related COVID claims increased more than tenfold between May and August, climbing to the highest level since January as the state’s economy fully reopened and the Delta virus spread throughout the state. Additional claims from September and October are still being reported, but the COVID-19 claim totals reported as of November 15 show that the DWC has recorded 3,671 claims with September injury dates and 2,743 claims with October injury dates. The addition of the COVID claim totals for September and October pushed the number of COVID claims reported since the beginning of the pandemic to 168,477, including 1,211 death claims. COVID claims have accounted for 15.6% of all California work injury claims since the first cases were reported in January 2020 but the recent data suggest vaccines and safety measures are having an effect as COVID cases represented just 9.5% of the work injury and illness claims reported thus far for the first 10 months of this year, and just 6.1% of all claims with October injury dates.

CWCI’s app also allows users to compare claims data for specified timeframes within the pandemic period of March 2020 through October 2021, or to a baseline set of pre-pandemic claims from a year earlier to show how the mix of claims by industry sector, region, age, gender, etc. has changed For example, comparing claim distributions by industry between the pre-pandemic period of June through August 2019 to the same pandemic periods of June through August 2020 and 2021 shows that during the pre-pandemic baseline period, health care workers accounted for 11.0% of all California workers’ compensation claims. But by the summer of 2020, the pandemic had taken hold, especially among health care workers who accounted for 32.9% of all COVID claims, which drove their share of all workers’ comp claims in the state up to 16.3%. However, by the summer of 2021, following the introduction of vaccines, health care workers’ share of the COVID claims was back down to 22.7%., so their share of all workers’ comp claims fell back to 12.0%.

The latest data shows the full 22-month trend in the regional distribution of California COVID claims, which can be broken out for specific timeframes. The following table displays the regional distributions of COVID claims for 4 distinct periods: the first 13 months after the first COVID claims were reported (January 2020 through January 2021); the 5-month span ending in June 2021 when COVID claim volume was falling sharply; July through August of 2021, this year’s summer’s surge brought on by the Delta variant; and September through October 2021, the fall decline.   

 

Calif WC COVID-19 Claims by Region (Jan ‘20 – Jan ‘21, Feb – June ’21, July – Aug ’21 and Sept ’21 – Oct ‘21)

Region

Jan ‘20 - Jan ‘21

Feb ‘21 – June ‘21

July ‘21 - Aug ‘21

Sept ’21 – Oct ‘21

 

# of Claims

% of Claims

# of Claims

% of Claims

# of Claims

% of Claims

# of Claims

% of Claims

L.A. County

39,538

28.3%

1,651

18.7%

2,515

20.5%

1,087

17.2%

Inland Empire/OC

35,985

25.7%

1,651

18.7%

2,523

20.6%

1,400

22.2%

Valleys

26,134

18.7%

2,554

25.6%

2,839

23.1%

1,946

30.8%

Bay Area

18,747

13.4%

1,519

17.2%

2,020

16.5%

771

12.2%

San Diego

8,702

6.2%

667

7.6%

1,025

8.3%

405

6.4%

Central Coast

7,014

5.0%

553

6.3%

522

4.3%

204

3.2%

N. Counties/Sierras

2,991

2.1%

423

4.8%

735

6.0%

455

7.2%

Out of State

684

0.5%

92

1.0%

97

0.8%

41

0.6%

    

During the first 13 months, Los Angeles County (28.3%) and the Inland Empire/Orange County (25.7%) together accounted for more than half of the state’s COVID-19 workers’ comp claims, followed by the Central Valley (18.7%), the Bay Area (13.4%), San Diego (6.2%), and the more rural Central Coast (5.0%) and North Counties/Sierras (2.1%). COVID claim volume plummeted as vaccines became widely available in the spring of 2021, and the regional mix of claims shifted, with both L.A. County and the Inland Empire/Orange County registering a sharp decline in their share of the COVID claims (down 9.6 and 7.0 percentage points respectively). Meanwhile, the Central Valley’s share jumped by 6.9 percentage points, the Bay Area’s share increased by 3.8 percentage points, San Diego and the Central Coast saw their shares rise by 1.4 and 1.3 percentage points respectively, and the North Counties/Sierras’ share more than doubled from 2.1% to 4.8%. The regional distribution shifted again with the summer surge in July and August, which coincided with the reopening of the state’s economy on June 15, as both L.A. County and the Inland Empire/Orange County moved back over 20% of the COVID claims, which is likely related to the huge number of workers returning to jobs in those regions, while the Central Valley’s share fell by 2.5 percentage points to 23.1%, though it remained the number one region in the state in terms of COVID claim volume. Notably, San Diego saw its share of the COVID claims continue to increase during the summer surge, as did the North Counties/Sierras, which surpassed the Central Coast in terms of COVID claim volume, which may be partially due to the high level of vaccine hesitancy in this region, which has consistently had the lowest vaccination rate in the state. As the number of COVID workers’ comp claims dwindled this fall, the geographic mix shifted once more, but this time the Central Valley experienced the sharpest increase, climbing to 30.8% of the statewide claim total, with smaller increases (1.6 and 1.2 percentage points) noted for the Inland Empire/Orange County and the North Counties/Sierras. In contrast, the most significant declines this fall have been in the state’s urban areas, as the Bay Area’s share of the COVID claims fell by 4.3 percentage points, L.A. County’s share fell by 3.3 percentage points, and San Diego’s share fell by 1.9 percentage points.

The latest COVID claims data are from the November 15 update to CWCI’s COVID-19/Non-COVID-19 Interactive Claim App, which integrates data from CWCI, DWC, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics to provide current and historical data on California work injury claims. The app includes COVID claims data dating back to January 2020, as well as data on monthly non-COVID claims volume from 2019 which can be used for comparisons. The app is updated biweekly and is available to the public here.