Essential workers have borne the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic for months, but the U.S. is still doing relatively little to protect them.
Why it matters: With no end to the pandemic in sight, America’s frontline workers still must choose between risking their health and losing their source of income.
Driving the news: The Trump administration said this week that health insurers aren’t required to cover coronavirus diagnostic tests performed as part of workplace safety or public health surveillance efforts.
- It didn’t say who is supposed to pay for these tests. If employers are stuck footing the bill, that makes the testing less likely to happen.
The big picture: There’s been no national effort or initiative to protect essential workers, and America is still failing to implement basic public health measures as new cases skyrocket.
- Masks have become a political flashpoint and aren’t required in many of the states that are emerging coronavirus hotspots.
- That means essential workers go to work each day without any guarantee that the people they’re interacting with will take one of the most basic and effective steps to prevent transmission of the virus.
- No one is even talking about mass distribution of personal protective equipment beyond health care workers. And even some health care workers — particularly those who work in nursing homes — don’t have the protective gear that they need.
More broadly, the financial incentives for frontline workers, particularly those who are low-income, to keep working make it nearly impossible for them to avoid health risks.
- At least 69 million American workers are potentially ineligible for the emergency paid sick leave benefits that Congress passed earlier this year, per the Kaiser Family Foundation.
- An estimated 25-30 million people — particularly lower-wage workers in service industries — are unable to work from home but also face a high risk of severe infection, KFF’s Drew Altman wrote earlier this week.
What we’re watching: The line between essential workers and those who are required to return to the office by their employer has become blurry, and millions more Americans are facing dilemmas similar to those faced by grocers and bus drivers.
- The sickest — and thus most vulnerable — Americans may feel the most pressure to return to work, as that’s often where they get their health insurance, the NYT points out.
- Nearly a quarter of adult workers are vulnerable to severe coronavirus infections, per KFF.
The bottom line: Essential workers and their families will continue to feel the impact of America’s coronavirus failures most acutely.
Go deeper: “Disposable workers” doing essential jobs