H1N1 sickness doesn’t pay, enough

A lack of University-paid sick leave may reinforce the spread of H1N1 virus.

by Maureen Landsverk

During flu season, avoiding germs and preventing the spread of illness is condensed to a fluid stream of consciousness. Effervescent signs, DayQuil commercials and tissue-bearing friends all radiate the same seasonal message: Stay healthy so we can too. No matter who you are, what you do or the type of people you associate with, the risk of sickness is inescapable in todayâÄôs society. This fact makes the need to steer clear of health faux pas greater than ever. The newly introduced H1N1 flu, a new strain of the influenza virus, was first detected in the United States on the tail end of the flu season, in April of this year. June brought the World Health OrganizationâÄôs official announcement of the virusâÄô pandemic status. With the 250 million vaccine doses purchased by the United States, anyone who wants to be vaccinated has at least the resources to do so. The situation has thrown the international community into a frenzy of panic-stricken flu paranoia, despite the governmentâÄôs efforts to calm the fervor precipitated by fever-inducing illness. According to ABC, national efforts to maintain a health-conscious societal outlook leave much to be desired. In the process of giving the nod to sick workers who try to lessen the spread of the flu by calling in sick, they have failed to grant paid sick leave to 54 million American workers. That statistic encompasses workers from all walks of life, but of those who play a major role in human interaction âÄî namely low-wage earners in businesses like food service and childcare âÄî up to 80 percent or more do not have any paid sick leave. Many of these low-wage workers cannot afford to miss work if sick âÄî a risk of contagion âÄî if an understandable one. The same problem can be applied to the University of MinnesotaâÄôs own lack of paid sick leave for its student workers. In the current economic climate, many students already struggle to make ends meet without having to take into account possible unpaid absence at work. In the UniversityâÄôs H1N1 FAQ section, the official stance is as follows: âÄúUntil 24 hours after your fever subsides, you should not attend class, go to work or attend events where you will be in close proximity with others.âÄù First-year Jessica Wolleat, who must fork up her portion of a monthly sum consisting of rent, electric and cable-internet service on her own, would find it difficult to abide by the UniversityâÄôs policy to âÄústay homeâÄù: âÄúI have bills to pay. Whether or not IâÄôm sick, they still need to be paid. I would go to work regardless.âÄù She, like many University students, works in the food service industry. With more and more students responsible for their own bills and payments, the importance of paid sick leave has become more apparent than ever before. Many students must shoulder the brunt of the disadvantages of influenza in college life. What used to be handled by parents and guardians is now in our hands, and many are left with no choice, as the prospect of not being able to foot the numerous bills left on our doorstep looms in the near future. WolleatâÄôs roommate, first-year Lucy Taylor, would also be severely disadvantaged if her roommate was unable to come up with her share of the bill. She also favors the idea of University employee paid sick leave: âÄúI feel like there should be some sort of compensatory insurance for us âĦ you shouldnâÄôt be forced to work when youâÄôre sick.âÄù At the moment, vaccination is not a viable option for the majority of the student population. Following a sluggish nationwide distribution schedule, MinnesotaâÄôs second shipment of 30,000 doses of H1N1 vaccine was delivered last week âÄî but only on a âÄòwe-call-youâÄô basis. In this case, doctors and medical personnel made the decision on who would receive the coveted vaccine, based on the vulnerability of their patients, most of whom are children. Even the vaccine for seasonal influenza is hard to come by. In a recent campus-wide e-mail, the University plans to follow guidelines specified by the Minnesota Department of Health to only make vaccines available to âÄúhigh-priorityâÄù individuals: healthcare workers, elderly patrons, those with weak immune systems and explicit health conditions, and those who live with anyone of high-risk status. While the U.S. government and the University present laudable advice in the way of preventing the spread of influenza strains, they do not provide the protocol to back up their guidance. National law should follow in the footsteps of local directives of places like San Francisco and Washington, D.C., where every worker is guaranteed up to nine days of paid sick leave annually. Until University bylaws are altered to implement such standards, we as students and workers cannot be expected to follow the isolating recommendations of our health experts. Maureen Landsverk welcomes comments at [email protected].