•Containing the coronavirus may require systemic change like paid sick leave. 

Wall-to-wall news coverage of the coronavirus, or COVID-19 virus, has frightened people around the world in the last couple months, despite having an infection and death rate similar to the flu.

As the fear builds, some observers say the biggest threat the virus poses to the African-American community is a dangerous loss of income.

At a recent Black Women’s Roundtable event in South Carolina, reported on by Essence Magazine, the problem was broken down by Carol Joyner, director for the nonprofit Labor Project for Working Families and Family Values.

“How many people today saw something on the news about the coronavirus? Raise your hand,” Joyner instructed the attendees. “This is happening in a moment when 40% of the people in the United States do not have a single paid sick day. So the CDC says, ‘Stay home so that you don’t spread the disease.’ But if you stay home, you’re likely not to get paid.”

World Health Organization’s Basic Protective Measures Against the New Coronavirus

– Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.

– Maintain at least 3 feet distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.

– Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth

– Follow good respiratory hygiene. This means covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately.

– Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance. Follow the directions of your local health authority.

– Stay informed and follow advice given by your healthcare provider 

Joyner went on to explain that among low wage earners and among people of color, almost 80% lack a single paid sick day.

“We’re talking bus drivers, we’re talking people who care for our children, childcare workers, we’re talking about restaurant workers, servers serving our food,” the D.C-based Joyner said. “All of these folks are struggling to have a single paid sick day. So there’s that paid sick day that allows you to take one or two days off to go get tested for coronavirus. There’s also that longer-term, where you’re supposed to self-quarantine. So two, maybe three weeks.”

From the cost of healthcare to the lack of guaranteed paid sick days in the US, experts say containing the coronavirus requires systemic change.

“For many Americans who have insurance and have a good job with an understanding employer … those recommendations are plausible,” David Blumenthal, president of the global health think tank the Commonwealth Fund, told TheGuardian.com.

“They are not necessarily workable for people who have no health insurance or poor health insurance – so that’s about a fifth of the American population,” he said.

In the only wealthy country which doesn’t require paid sick days, staying home is difficult to do.

During the 2009 H1N1 swine flu outbreak, at least three in 10 workers didn’t take time off work when sick, according to a paper by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. The paper said this led up to 7 million additional infections and may have extended the outbreak.

Also not addressed is paid family and medical leave to recover from the coronavirus.

“That’s the leave that you need for a longer period of time to recover from something like that, [or] to welcome a baby for a couple of months, or to care for a sick family member,” she said.

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