According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 69 percent of low-wage workers don't get paid sick leave. (Photo: Shutterstock)

If it didn't matter (enough) to politicians before, it certainly does now. The surge in cases of coronavirus and the sounding of warning tocsins from the rest of the world to stay home from work if ill are bringing the question of paid sick leave front and center, since in the U.S. most lower-paid workers can't afford to stay home when illness strikes.

The Guardian reports that service industry workers who struggle along on low pay and frequently poor or no benefits could be among those most at risk—and putting others at risk—by struggling to continue to work even if they fall ill with Covid-19.

Related: Paid sick leave: A legislative update

As noted by the Guardian, there are more than 32 million workers in the U.S. with no access to paid sick leave. In addition, low-wage workers' lack of health care access makes them particularly vulnerable to the virus. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 69 percent of low-wage workers–those in the tenth lowest percentile of median wage earners in the civilian workforce–don't get paid sick leave.

And that puts not just them but the rest of the population at risk. "Their earnings are low so they can't afford to take unpaid leave and when they are sick they have to keep working and expose other people in the process." Harry Holzer, a professor of public policy at Georgetown University, told the Guardian. "That's the reason advocates for paid leave make the case, it's not just for the worker, it's for the public good. There's a reason for the government to help provide it."

In recognition of the hazards contagion can bring, The Hill reports that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, are pushing to include paid sick leave, a boost to unemployment insurance and "widespread and free" testing for the coronavirus as part of an economic stimulus package

Amid reports of a potential tax package to benefit the airline, cruise, hospitality and travel industries, both losing business in the midst of the crisis, Pelosi and Schumer are quoted in the report saying that they are "demanding that the administration prioritize the health and safety of American workers and their families over corporate interests."

As part of that "demand," the two are championing paid sick leave for workers being hit with the costs of a quarantine or lack of child care in the event of school closures, as well as reimbursement for patients for coronavirus-associated costs that are not otherwise covered and the imposition of anti-price gouging protections.

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