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First COVID-19 Cases in NM; Pandemic Highlights Lack of Paid Sick Leave

Consumer spending in the U.S. accounts for roughly 70% of economic growth, making the new coronavirus and associated disruptions in the global supply chain a significant risk to the U.S. economy. (alex80/Pixabay)
Consumer spending in the U.S. accounts for roughly 70% of economic growth, making the new coronavirus and associated disruptions in the global supply chain a significant risk to the U.S. economy. (alex80/Pixabay)
March 12, 2020

SANTA FE, N.M. -- New Mexico announced its first presumptive positive COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, the first confirmed cases in the state.

But as the virus spreads, many Americans with symptoms may not stay home from work because they don't have paid sick leave.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that anyone who suspects a COVID-19 infection self-isolate.

But 30 million, or one in four, U.S. workers aren't paid for sick days, and even risk losing jobs if they miss work.

Ellen Bravo, executive director of the group Family Values at Work, says many are low-wage service employees.

"The people who drive our kids' school buses and care for our elderly relatives, and handle our food and our groceries and our things we buy at retail stores -- when they don't have paid sick days, it's a disaster for all of us," she states.

The U.S. is one of the only wealthier countries with no guaranteed sick pay for workers, according to the World Policy Center.

But some companies, including Olive Garden, Uber, Trader Joe's and REI, have announced revised policies to offer paid sick leave in response to COVID-19.

The health crisis has also renewed an effort in Congress by Democrats to pass a new version of a sick leave bill stalled since 2004 -- legislation supported by Family Values at Work.

Bravo says some Americans are unaware of how many people don't have paid sick leave.

"I remember, years ago, standing outside a restaurant with a clipboard and a petition for paid sick days in Milwaukee," Bravo relates. "A guy came out, looked at the petition and said, 'Oh thanks, I already have paid sick days.' And as he started to walk away I said, 'Oh great -- what about the person who just made your lunch?'"

On Wednesday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a public health emergency. All three New Mexico cases -- two in Socorro County and another in Bernalillo County -- are travel related.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM