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posted: 3/21/2020 6:18 AM

Coronavirus means many US workers are making no-win choices

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  • FILE -- In this March 17, 2020 file photo, Kenneth Evans wipes down hand rails with disinfectant as he cleans a DART rail train at the transit authority's Central Rail Operating Facility in Dallas.

    FILE -- In this March 17, 2020 file photo, Kenneth Evans wipes down hand rails with disinfectant as he cleans a DART rail train at the transit authority's Central Rail Operating Facility in Dallas.
    (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News via AP, File)

 
 

When Javier Parodi returned home from a nightmare vacation in Egypt complete with several days of quarantine on a coronavirus-infested ship, he yearned to go back to work.

But Parodi, a building inspector for the city of Miami Beach, called in sick as a precaution when he started to feel feverish within two days of coming home. He had tested negative aboard the Nile cruise ship MS Asara.

Parodi, 35, was told he would use his paid time off while under quarantine. City workers would have to use their own sick leave if quarantined unless they tested positive, in which case they would be given special administrative leave, according to a March 10 internal memo to employees. The city didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on that policy.

However, as of Tuesday, his extra hours won't be tapped. Parodi tested positive for the coronavirus.

Americans have been told they need to stay home to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. For some workers, it's hard to choose between a paycheck and public health, keeping benefits or keeping the coronavirus from infecting their families and even losing sick time or testing positive.

About a quarter of U.S. workers are ineligible for paid sick leave, and while Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which would give paid leave to workers who did not have it and extend paid leave for workers who only got a few days, U.S. employees are still making wrenching decisions.

Some who think they may have become infected are unable to get one of the limited tests offered. Many have been laid off or face the threat of furlough.

For some, it feels like any choice they make will be wrong.

Heather Harvey, an education coordinator at a corporate-owned child-care center in West Lafayette, Indiana, had to decide her priorities Sunday: The health of her and her husband, who has Type 1 diabetes, or helping parents who need to be at work, like doctors, with their child care.

There is no upside, Harvey, 50, said.

At first, she had planned to work this week, but at the end of the weekend, she realized she didn't want to potentially expose her husband, who had already self-quarantined for five days, by going to work.

"It felt bad for me to go and bring 140 people's germs home with me," she said. "Working with kids, you are always getting sneezed on and coughed on, and you try to wash your hands but you can't do it. It's impossible to work in that situation and not get sneezed on or coughed on."

Instead, she is using up her sick time, unsure whether her center will close.

Harvey is spending the time working on homework for a bachelor's degree, which the company is paying for -- for now.

Loretta Warren, a customer service representative in Bristol, Pennsylvania, felt like she was letting down her team of 10 at work when she asked to work from home. At 74, she's the oldest in the office and is worried about getting infected.

"When we're short-handed, it makes everyone's jobs harder," she said. "But I'd rather be wrong than dead. I never miss work, no matter what, but in this situation, for my own well-being and my daughter's, I'm following the advice of experts."

Lani Gerson's daughter Hannah is in her early 30s and young enough to bounce back from an infection. But if she's not symptomatic, she can still carry home an infection from her job at a day-care center near Boston and get her parents sick.

She elected not to return to work, a decision that plagued the whole family, Lani Gerson said.

"My daughter feels the burden of it, but we're all weighing it," she said. "We're trying to be thoughtful and caring of everything -- like everyone else is."