Kentucky health officials are promising a robust response to a potential outbreak of COVID-19 and dispensing advice for avoiding the illness, but following those recommendations isn’t always as simple as it sounds— especially for low wage workers.
State officials can’t stress it enough: wash your hands, get the flu shot, and, as Gov. Andy Beshear repeated at a press conference last week, "please don't come to work if you are sick."
For many Kentuckians, that last bit is easier said than done. That’s because, according to Jason Bailey with the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, the commonwealth is among the worst regions in the nation when it comes to access to paid sick days. In 2017, the General Assembly passed a law that prevents local governments from enacting paid sick time mandates. And many of those workers without the benefits work in service industries.
"If you think about restaurants, child care centers, home health aides, these are people who have contact with lots of people," he warns. "And so their inability to take a day off when they're sick just enables the spread of diseases and conditions that puts us at greater risk."
The analyst cautions a reversal in the state’s downward trend of uninsured in the last four years is another factor that could hamper efforts to slow or prevent the spread of the disease. Add to that mix rising pension and other costs for local health departments, which have trimmed down staff by more than 1,000 employees over the past decade.
"That's a concerning issue when you look at the role that they would play in a potential coronavirus response. The health departments are really important," Bailey told WUKY.
The policy expert says that lack of resources was on display during the recent Hepatitis A outbreak, which hit Kentucky particularly hard — in part because of limited funding, according to the state’s former head of infectious diseases.
The virus continues to appear in other states, most recently in New York, Rhode Island, and Florida. As of Monday afternoon, no confirmed cases had been reported in Kentucky.