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Food service workers say lack of sick days could help spread coronavirus

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Coronavirus is now spreading globally. In Italy, 528 people are infected, and 14 have died, with the Italian prime minister quarantining a dozen towns and over 50,000 people in an attempt to slow the spread of the disease. A hotel in the Canary Islands has also been put into lockdown after an Italian doctor was diagnosed with the disease.  

And with President Donald Trump appointing Vice President Mike Pence to head the United States' response to the virus, an outbreak in the United States now seems possible. But food service workers are now warning that a lack of sick days could help to spread the virus even further. 

The conversation began with a viral Twitter thread from writer Lauren Hough. She explained: "I don’t think people realize how many service industry workers will continue going to work, cooking and serving your food, cleaning your houses, and selling you respirators, with flu-like symptoms because they don’t have paid sick days."

Speaking from experience, Hough explained that companies that do offer sick days only tend to offer a few days a year. Coronavirus patients can be infectious for weeks, with the quarantine period alone being two weeks. Clearly, the math doesn't add up.

Hough went on to add that many people in the service industry regularly come into work sick because they can't afford not to. At her workplace, they called it "bar flu" as the virus made its way through the entire workforce. 

"I pulled shifts as a barista with walking pneumonia because if I called in sick I’d be fired," Hough wrote. "That’s normal. That’s the f*****g service industry. So, fingers-crossed I guess."

The writer concluded: "This is every restaurant, every grocery store, every big box store, every cable company, plumbing company, home healthcare, maid service, hotel, delivery service, coffee shop, oil change shop, just about every hourly job in the country."

Other people in the service industry seemed to agree. One Twitter user wrote: "I have watched people PRIDE themselves on working through illness and injury. I had a driver break his foot by stepping on a tennis ball in someone's driveway, and then work another four days on a broken foot on ibuprofen and spite."

While another added: "I still feel guilty 15 years after the fact for going to work with pneumonia. I could have made anyone sick, but I also didn't know at the time that a coworker had HIV. I could have killed her because our job didn't have sick days."

One user concluded: "Oh, yeah, and I work part-time in a church nursery. We can't call in unless we arrange our replacement and there's only 5 of us and there has to be 2 at all times.  So yeah, I've taken care of babies when I was sick."

And another added: "The main reason the US is not prepared for this is that we have eliminated our social safety net. People can't afford to miss work, miss rent, go to the hospital. There is no federal food program." 

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