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COVID-19

Paid sick leave prevents thousands of COVID cases daily, study says

Samantha Fields Nov 5, 2020
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Nurse and health care workers in the Bronx, New York, rally against a policy requiring a doctor's note to receive paid sick leave in April. Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Paid sick leave prevents thousands of COVID cases daily, study says

Samantha Fields Nov 5, 2020
Heard on:
Nurse and health care workers in the Bronx, New York, rally against a policy requiring a doctor's note to receive paid sick leave in April. Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images
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The U.S. set another record for new COVID-19 cases in a single day Wednesday: more than 100,000. Fourteen states recorded record numbers of people hospitalized with the virus.

There are a number of things we know by now that make a big difference in reducing the spread of COVID-19 — wearing masks, washing our hands, social distancing. And paid sick leave.

At least 17 European countries, Japan, Australia and Canada guarantee at least some paid sick leave.

The United States does not. Which often means people end up going to work sick, said Ruth Milkman, a labor sociologist at the City University of New York.

“People are forced to choose between making a living and protecting their own health and that of their families,” she said. “And, often, they choose to make a living.”

Which is not great when you’re trying to control the spread of a highly contagious virus. So in March, Congress and the White House approved two weeks of emergency paid sick leave for COVID-related reasons.

In the 38 states that did not already mandate some kind of paid sick leave, a new study shows the law made a big difference.

“We saw 400 fewer cases per day” in each of those states, said Nicolas Ziebarth, one of the authors of the study and an economist at Cornell University. He said the effect of the new law adds up to about 15,000 fewer cases per day nationwide, “because workers in some states could now, for the first time, take paid sick leave.”

That’s even though the law “essentially left out 106 million workers nationwide,” said Pronita Gupta, director of job quality at the advocacy group the Center for Law and Social Policy. She said the emergency sick leave policy does not apply to companies with more than 500 employees. A lot of smaller companies have been able to get exemptions, and a lot of workers who are covered don’t know it.

The law will expire at the end of December, and Gupta said if Congress doesn’t extend it, “you’re going to see the spread of contagion. As the nation tries to recover and tries to reopen, it’ll continue to hamper that reopening — and it’ll have long-term impacts,” Gupta said.

Impacts on people’s health and well-being, she said, and on the nation’s economy.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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