You know that coronavirus thing everyone is talking about? Apparently, it’s pretty contagious, and can be passed along via contact with food that was handled by a sick person.
And remember that other thing where food service employees are rarely offered paid sick leave by their employees and are also paid so little that missing any workdays could mean they won’t be able to pay rent?
People on Twitter are starting to make a connection between the coronavirus outbreak, insecure service industry jobs, and a lack of affordable healthcare options and wondering if perhaps it might cause a problem.
I don’t think people realize how many service industry workers will continue going to work, cooking and serving your food, cleaning your houses, and selling you respirators, with flu-like symptoms because they don’t have paid sick days.— Lauren Hough (@laurenthehough) February 27, 2020
Writer Lauren Hough pointed out that when she was working in the service industry, as many of us have at some point in our lives, she was given little if any sick leave and working while sick was a common situation.
Ask anyone who’s worked in a bar or waited tables what happens when someone gets sick. The answer won’t be, they went home. We called it bar flu because everyone had it and passed it back and forth for a month.— Lauren Hough (@laurenthehough) February 27, 2020
And while in some states employers are required to offer sick leave, they Hough further points out that it often doesn’t kick in until 30-90 days after hiring. In other areas, sick leave accumulates based on the number of hours you work. Coupled with the high turnover rates common in service industries and you have a recipe for disaster.
Plus, if you do call out sick, nobody lets you forget it.
This is every restaurant, every grocery store, every big box store, every cable company, plumbing company, home healthcare, maid service, hotel, delivery service, coffee shop, oil change shop, just about every hourly job in the country.— Lauren Hough (@laurenthehough) February 27, 2020
Basically, if you don’t want to get sick, you’d better not need any services until they develop and deploy a vaccine. Shouldn’t be more than a couple of years.
Hough isn’t the only one raising the alarm on this very American problem. Almost everyone who has ever been employed in the service industry has a story of a time when they had to work while sick or injured or had coworkers who did the same.
I have watched people PRIDE themselves on working through illness and injury. I had a driver break his foot by stepping on a tennis ball in someone's driveway, and then work another four days on a broken foot on ibuprofen and spite.— Do not Thump the Book of G'Nome (@NomeDaBarbarian) February 27, 2020
Fuck out of here. pic.twitter.com/yo97CEg4wa
There are now dozens of cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., and the first case of “unknown origin,” meaning that the infected person had not been to one of the highly affected areas such as Wuhan, China recently, just appeared in California. As the virus spreads, service employees who can’t afford to go to the doctor could easily catch it without knowing that it is the coronavirus. Even if they did suspect COVID-19, they might avoid diagnosis because they can’t afford to be quarantined.
As TIME editor at large Anand Giridharadas, this why living in a society means we actually have to be willing to take care of each other.
Coronavirus makes clear what has been true all along. Your health is as safe as that of the worst-insured, worst-cared-for person in your society. It will be decided by the height of the floor, not the ceiling.— Anand Giridharadas (@AnandWrites) February 27, 2020
Because let’s keep it very real. Right now, even under the advances of Obamacare, some of you will very possibly be infected by people who might have realized what they had and not infected you had they not been frightened of a medical bill.— Anand Giridharadas (@AnandWrites) February 27, 2020
It may be too late to stop the spread of the coronavirus with Medicare for All and paid sick leave for the most undervalued employees in the country, but there will always be another virus.