Mass bellyaches

I hear the same advice over and over again – if you’re sick, don’t go to work; if your kids are sick, don’t send them to school. Several hundred students fell ill in one Indiana school this week from what officials believe is a norovirus outbreak, aka the cruise ship virus.

As buildings and homes are built to be airtight, as more people are crammed into public spaces for everything from mass education to mass worship, as bacteria become more resilient against our efforts to kill them, I understand the desire to tell people to stay home. However, as any low-wage worker can tell you, there are consequences for staying home.

Many employers have points systems whereby absences and tardiness are counted against an employee. Imagine what happens for a single parent with a couple of kids who works where a points system is the norm. Kid one gets sick on Monday and Tuesday so the parent stays home. Kid two calls from school on Thursday saying she’s sick. Now the parent is out Thursday and Friday. What happens when the parent gets sick? Can he or she afford to stay out Monday? Probably not.

From a public health perspective, I think it needs to become more acceptable for people to stay home when they and the people for which they are responsible get sick. Until attendance and paid time off policies support this public health initiative, I predict even more instances where hundreds and maybe even thousands of students, employees, diners, movie-goers, game fans, and mega-church attendees fall ill.

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