Ottawa Public Health’s lessons learned after nearly a full year of managing the spread of the novel coronavirus locally highlight the importance of paid sick leave in mitigating COVID-19 impacts in workplaces and long-term care homes.
The local public health unit released two reports on lessons learned in the coronavirus pandemic ahead of next week’s board of health meeting: one covers the COVID-19 response in general, while the other focuses specifically on long-term care settings.
Both highlight the role paid sick leave can play in reducing the impact and severity of COVID-19 outbreaks.
OPH said in its reports that a number of long-term care workers in Ottawa are precariously employed and have been forced to make difficult decisions around whether to go to work or stay home when feeling sick.
“OPH observed staff continue to work with mild symptoms for fear of lost wages required to meet basic needs, and case managers have connected workers who test positive to emergency social service supports.”
Keeping employees at home when they’re experiencing possible COVID-19 symptoms can accordingly reduce the chances a worker will bring the virus into the home, OPH said.
The connection between precarious employment and coronavirus transmission exists in workplaces beyond care settings, the health unit noted.
Some low-income workers might be working multiple jobs without access to medical benefits or sick days. Infections can ripple through any workplace, OPH said, which can affect businesses’ bottom lines through absenteeism and “costly outbreaks.”
Going forward, OPH said it plans to work with higher levels of government and the business sector to support workers to stay home when sick.
Other public health experts have also highlighted paid sick leave as a missing piece of Ontario’s COVID-19 response, but Premier Doug Ford has said he doesn’t see any reason for the province to “jump in,” deferring instead to the federal government’s response.
The feds have provided support for people who have been out of work due to COVID-19, but critics have said that is not equivalent to the job security that comes with paid sick leave.
More to come.