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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Virginia physicians today called on state policymakers to pass a paid sick leave proposal that can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and significantly rein in the pandemic, which is threatening to flare up with the emergence of more contagious strains of the virus.
“While our medical advice will always be that people should stay at home when they have COVID or another illness so they can recover and not infect others in the workplace, more than 1.2 million Virginians right now do not have access to paid sick leave,” said Dr. Greg Gelburd, a family physician in Charlottesville. “Simply put, it hurts all of us when people feel they have to go to work sick, because they need the paycheck or fear getting fired. Now that the more contagious strains of COVID-19 are spreading in many states, it is time to pass paid sick leave.”
The physicians urged the Virginia General Assembly to pass HB2137, which requires employers to provide certain employees paid sick leave. Under HB2137, an employee is eligible for paid sick leave if the employee is an essential worker and works on average at least 20 hours per week or 90 hours per month. The bill provides for an employee to earn at least one hour of paid sick leave benefit for every 30 hours worked. The bill passed the Virginia House of Delegates earlier this month but needs to be passed in the Senate still, and the Virginia General Assembly’s 2021 session is nearing its close.
The physicians pointed out that essential workers are least likely to be able to take paid time off for sickness: 76 percent of food service workers, 75 percent of those in personal care like home health workers or child care workers, and 68 percent of cleaning and maintenance workers don’t have access to paid sick days.
“The seriousness of COVID cannot be overstated,” said Dr. Stewart Pollock, a cardiologist in Harrisonburg. “A lot of people get chronic ‘long-hauler’ syndrome — I’ve seen this in patients and coworkers. Heart disease is very common in COVID patients, and the high risk of blood clots is overwhelming. We don’t want people with COVID-19 who may not be symptomatic coming to work. We don’t want them to transmit it to their coworkers and the community beyond. It’s common sense, and there’s considerable data, that if people do have paid sick leave, they won’t come to work and they won’t foster ongoing spread of disease, and the whole community benefits. That’s the major reason for this bill to be passed now.”
A federal emergency law signed in March 2020 allowed employees to take two weeks of COVID-19-related emergency sick leave coverage at full pay. The law also allowed up to 12 weeks of paid family leave at two-thirds of daily pay for parents to take care of their children as a result of closures of schools and child care facilities. Researchers found that because of this emergency paid sick leave protection, each state likely saw 400 fewer confirmed cases of COVID-19 per day. That law, the Families First Act, expired at the end of 2020.
“Paid sick leave would help essential workers, the majority of whom are Black and Latino or Latina, and who are at incredibly high risk for not only COVID infections, but the worst COVID infections,” said Dr. Michael Williams, an intensive care physician in Charlottesville. “The risk is highest in those communities, and those communities only have about half a shot at having access to paid sick leave. The need for this bill could not be greater for those who are most impacted by this once-in-human-history pandemic.”
About 38 percent of black people cannot earn a single sick day. Additionally, women face distinct, long-lasting harm. Women comprise 60 percent of the nation’s family caregivers, so when a family member falls ill, it is overwhelmingly women who will stay home with them. And because households of color are more likely to be multigenerational, with both young children and elderly relatives at home and in need of care, this caregiving burden falls especially heavily on Black and Latinx women.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday, Feb. 19, 2021
NOTE: The physicians above are speaking in their capacity as members of the Committee to Protect Medicare. They should be identified only as indicated in this news release.