As schools reopen and cooler, drier temperatures return here to Washington, D.C., the nation waits for the second wave of the H1N1 flu to hit us. Meanwhile, we are bombarded by information on the Internet, in the news and through our email inboxes. Google, too, is in on the action, helping to track and map the H1N1 flu. And now, there’s even an “iPhone app” for the H1N1 virus! We know people are engaged when there’s an “app.” This one will enable users to track, report and be notified of H1N1 outbreaks on the ground, in real time. It will also allow researchers to collect data on new areas of flu activity.
Yet, when we look beyond the hype, the actual prevention of the spread of the H1N1 virus is relatively uncomplicated. Government officials are simply asking workers to stay home when they are sick, and to keep sick children home from school. Of course, there’s other advice, including coughing into your inner elbows, washing your hands frequently and getting vaccinated. But perhaps the most effective is to stay home when you’re sick.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends that “people with influenza-like illness remain at home until at least 24 hours after they are free of fever…without the use of fever-reducing medications.” Schools will need to rely on parents to keep children at home if they are feverish.
Staying home to prevent the spread of H1N1 doesn’t require an “iPhone app,” or even access to Google maps. All a sick worker, or the parent of a sick child, needs is time off from work without the risk of losing their pay or their jobs. What workers urgently need is a guarantee that if they do the right thing and stay home with the flu, they won’t be docked pay, disciplined by an employer or fired.
A basic workplace standard of paid sick days would provide workers with such a guarantee. And it would help protect the public’s health by removing a key reason that sick adults go to work, and parents send sick children to school: concern about their financial security.
This policy establishing a standard of paid sick days has already been proposed by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and Sen. Chris Dodd. The Healthy Families Act (HR 2460/ S 1152) would guarantee workers seven paid sick days a year to recover from illness like the flu and care for ill family members.
Now, we need urgent action from our elected leaders in the White House and Congress to make the Healthy Families Act the law of the land. We’ve heard a lot from officials about how to cough into our elbows, and that’s good. Now, we want to hear how they will ensure that working families don’t risk their financial security to do what is right for their own health and the health of others in their workplaces, schools and communities. A real commitment to quickly enact the Healthy Families Act would make this a Labor Day to remember.