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Education and pandemic SARS-CoV-2 infections in the German working population - the mediating role of working from home.

OBJECTIVES: SARS-CoV-2 infections were unequally distributed during the pandemic, with those in disadvantaged socioeconomic positions being at higher risk. Little is known about the underlying mechanism of this association. This study assessed to what extent educational differences in SARS-CoV-2 infections were mediated by working from home.

METHODS: We used data of the German working population derived from the seroepidemiological study "Corona Monitoring Nationwide - Wave 2 (RKI-SOEP-2)" (N=6826). Infections were assessed by seropositivity against SARS-CoV-2 antigens and self-reports of previous PCR-confirmed infections from the beginning of the pandemic until study participation (November 2021 - February 2022). The frequency of working from home was assessed between May 2021 and January 2022.We used the Karlson-Holm-Breen (KHB) method to decompose the effect of education on SARS-CoV-2 infections.

RESULTS: Individuals with lower educational attainment had a higher risk for SARS-CoV-2 infection (adjusted prevalence ratio of low versus very high = 1.76, 95% confidence interval 1.08-2.88; P=0.023). Depending on the level of education, between 27% (high education) and 58% (low education) of the differences in infection were mediated by the frequency of working from home.

CONCLUSIONS: Working from home could prevent SARS-CoV-2 infections and contribute to the explanation of socioeconomic inequalities in infection risks. Wherever possible, additional capacities to work remotely, particularly for occupations that require lower educational attainment, should be considered as an important measure of pandemic preparedness. Limitations of this study are the observational cross-sectional design and that the temporal order between infection and working from home remained unclear.

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