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Lack of paid sick days and large numbers of uninsured increase risks of spreading the coronavirus

Feb 28, 2020 / News Item / Economic Policy Institute — Elise Gould

COVID-19—commonly known as the coronavirus—is now a potential threat for the United States and we all “need to be preparing for significant disruption of our lives,” warned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week.

Unfortunately, preparing for the “significant disruption” will be economically unimaginable for one group of Americans—the millions of people in the United States who do not have access to paid sick days or have health insurance with a regular health care provider.

The CDC released very clear instructions to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases, including staying home when you are sick. Not everyone has that option.

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Meaningful paid sick leave legislation is incredibly important for low-wage workers and their families and important to reduce the spread of illness.

The ability for workers to earn paid sick days varies greatly across the country. In lieu of federal action, many states have passed legislation to guarantee paid sick days, but many workers have been left behind. The figure below shows vast differences across Census divisions in the ability for workers to use paid sick time to take care of themselves or their family members. The share with access to paid sick days ranges from only 62% in East South Central United States (composed of Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Tennessee) up to 91% in the Pacific (California, Oregon, and Washington). Notably, many local municipalities in the East South Central region have been preempted by their state governments from passing paid leave and sick day policies.

The second recommendation from the CDC is to contact your healthcare provider.

We know in that the United States, millions of people delay getting medical treatment because of the costs. The latest Census numbers tell us that over 27 million people in this country are uninsured, up nearly two million over the previous year. These trends are moving in the wrong direction, notably because of losses in Medicaid coverage. Without health insurance, many do not have a regular source of care and simply won’t go to the doctor to get the attention and information they need to not only get better but reduce the spreading of disease.

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