Workers across California are battling on the frontlines of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, risking their lives simply by going to work. The heroes of the health care and public safety industries – the nurses, firefighters, doctors, police officers, paramedics and others we consider to be first responders – continue to put their lives on the line for the sake of others, risking everything while putting their own health second. We’ve seen the viral videos and stories of doctors and nurses having to self-quarantine or stay in hospitals overnight in order to protect the health of their families as they work in direct contact with victims of the virus, putting in long hours to help save lives. These heroes deserve to know they’ll be taken care of in the unfortunate event that they contract the coronavirus as a result of their working conditions. But they’re not the only heroes who deserve that protection.
There are many people working jobs that we’ve often taken for granted who’ve now been deemed essential to the survival of California residents and the economy. These are the heroes in “regular” jobs – the grocery store checkers, baggers and stockers, truck drivers, farm workers, bankers and tellers, plumbers, bus drivers, postal workers, restaurant workers and many others now deemed essential – who are also putting their lives on the line to keep the rest of us fed and in working condition as we shelter in place. While some may be at greater risk of contracting the coronavirus than others, these workers deserve to know they’ll have a safety net should they contract the disease while on the job, often working overtime to put food on their tables, and ours.
Many doctors, nurses and other essential workers have already tested positive for COVID-19, a result of coming into contact with an infected person while performing their jobs. These workers have been left to their own devices to figure out how to pay for the health care they’ll need to overcome the disease should they need to be hospitalized. A recent report from CNBC, citing figures from the independent nonprofit organization FAIR Health, estimates those with health insurance would likely need to pay a hefty portion of a $38,000 hospital bill while those without insurance would be liable for nearly $75,000.
Imagine being told you’re an essential employee, you’ve stayed on the job and worked tirelessly at the risk of your own health, and then learn there’s no real safety net if you contract the highly-contagious pathogen and that you’re basically on your own. This is simply unacceptable.
California’s workers’ compensation system should be available for those workers who are on the frontlines and contract the virus because of that increased exposure at work. This might be the only remedy for some of these workers who may not have employer-sponsored health insurance or may not have a viable health plan that would cover such a disease without leaving them bankrupt. Ensuring full hospital, surgical, medical treatment, disability indemnity and death benefits are covered for all essential workers is simply the right thing to do, and ensuring our system is prepared to support these essential heroes is of the utmost importance.
Once we’ve overcome this crisis, we hope we’ll remember all of the workers who remained at their posts, providing essential services and keeping our families safe. From the doctors and nurses being overworked in hospitals to the farm workers performing the back-breaking and often thankless job of getting our food from farm to fork. And I hope we can say that we were there for our heroes in their greatest time of need as they’ve been there for us. It’s the least we can do.