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A California Workers’ Compensation Institute analysis of claims reported to the state Division of Workers’ Compensation as of January 11 shows that the number of COVID-19 claims in the California workers’ compensation system more than tripled between October and November, then jumped another 64.2% to a record 23,483 claims in December. A new projection shows that the December total could climb to 37,573 cases once claims that are yet to be filed or still under investigation are added to the tally.

The latest figures show that after falling to a 6-month low in September, monthly COVID-19 claim counts began trending up in October as the fall wave of coronavirus cases hit the state.

Although not all November and December claims have been reported, the initial data from those months shows that as of the January 11, the DWC had recorded 14,298 COVID-19 claims with November injury dates, and a record 23,483 COVID-19 claims from December.

That year-end surge pushed the number of COVID-19 claims reported to the DWC for accident year (AY) 2020 to 93,470, which is 15.7% of all 2020 claims reported to the state, though with the recent spike, that proportion rose to 28.7% of all work injury claims reported for November and 47.4% of all claims reported for December.

The AY 2020 COVID-19 claim count includes 464 death claims — up 21.7% from the 381 death claims reported as of December 28 — which means COVID-19 death claims accounted for nearly half (48.0%) of the 966 work-related death claims recorded by the state for AY 2020.

Additional year-end claims continue to be filed, and CWCI’s projected COVID-19 claim count based on historical claim development that accounts for delays in COVID-19 claim reporting estimates that ultimately there will be 16,872 claims from November, and 37,573 claims from December, far surpassing the previous monthly record of 15,537 COVID-19 claims projected for July.

With hundreds of thousands of California jobs lost during the pandemic, and many workers in the state continuing to work remotely, DWC has recorded only 594,840 work injury claims for AY 2020, down 13.5% from 667,942 claims for AY 2019, despite the addition of the 93,470 COVID-19 claims.

However, the year-over-year decline in claim volume is only 6.5% if CWCI’s updated projection of the ultimate claim count for AY 2020 is used.

Other recent results show that health care workers’ share of the COVID-19 claims has declined from 44.7% in the first quarter of 2020 to 28.8% in the fourth quarter; males and younger workers continue to account for a growing share of the COVID-19 claims; and COVID-19 claim denial rates hit a 6-month high of 36.9% in October, though the denial data on claims from the last two months of 2020 is too green to be reliable.

Denial rates vary significantly by industry, with October claim denial rates ranging from 12.8% for utility workers to 66.8% for transportation workers. Many COVID-19 claims are denied because the claimants do not test positive for the virus.

The latest results on California workers’ comp COVID-19 claims are from the January 11 update to CWCI’s COVID-19/Non-COVID-19 Interactive Claim App, which integrates data from CWCI, DWC, and the Bureau of Labor and Statistics to provide information on California work injury claims from comparable periods of 2019 and 2020. The app is updated biweekly and is available to the public here.