FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 18, 2021
BACK TO SCHOOL: As Students Return In-Person, It’s Time for Virginia Legislators to Protect Them by Passing Paid Sick Days
Public Health, Education Leaders Call for Action on Paid Sick Days to Protect Virginians from Illness
RICHMOND, VA – Today, as nearly 1.3 million Virginia public school students prepare to return to school, public health and education advocates called for the legislature to take action on paid sick day legislation that will prevent illness from spreading in schools and communities.
Most students will return to in-person schooling, presenting a new challenge for school districts in the midst of the surge in COVID-19 delta variant cases. Public health experts believe that one of the best ways to limit community spread of COVID-19 – in addition to vaccination and masking – is by providing workers with paid sick days so they don’t have to go to work when they are sick or send their children to school sick.
Last year, Gov. Northam signed a law (HB 2137) providing paid sick days to 30,000 Virginia home health care workers. But more than 1.2 million Virginia workers still lack paid sick days. This means that many parents cannot take off if their child is sick, increasing the chances that sick children may be sent to school.
“We have known for some time that paid sick leave is a vital public policy to slow the spread of illness, but this COVID pandemic has brought new clarity and urgency to this fact,” says Virginia Vaccination Coordinator and Director of the Richmond City and Henrico County Health Departments, Dr. Danny Avula. “Low-wage workers without paid sick days have been faced with impossible decisions to either earn a living, or to stay home when sick. To fail to cover food and rent, or to send sick children to school, which puts teachers and other students at risk.”
Mr. Thomas Calhoun, president of the Norfolk Federation of Teachers, a chapter of The American Federation of Teachers, knows this all too well.
“Teachers pay a price for workers not having paid sick leave days,” explains Mr. Calhoun. “Many Virginia workers are parents of school-age children. They send the children to school sick because they can’t take off work. Many times, I have had parents who couldn’t come and pick up their sick child because they couldn’t get off work.” Mr. Calhoun has mentioned that in this regard, “this year will be the worst year ever.”
All signs already point to this school year shaping up to be a particularly dangerous one. As students in parts of Virginia start to head back to school, there have already been confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection in schools all across the commonwealth. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that a mere couple days into the school year, “all 53 fourth-graders at the Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts in South Richmond were quarantined after four positive COVID-19 cases among students.” Those numbers quickly skyrocketed. On Monday, August 16, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) reported that over the weekend, the number of children in Virginia who have contracted COVID-19 increased from 116,611 on August 13 to 117,877 on August 16. That is, in the short span of one weekend, 1,266 more children contracted COVID-19. Specifically, 534 of those are children aged 0 to 9 years, and 732 are aged 10 to 19 years. Children are not immune to contracting nor to spreading COVID-19, and especially not the highly contagious delta variant. Nine children in Virginia have died from COVID-19 complications, the VDH reports.
Much of the increase in transmission rates is directly attributed to the reopening of schools, but is only a glimpse of how dire the situation will become as schools in the rest of the commonwealth reopen for in-person instruction. In the Shenandoah Valley, Waynesboro High School emailed parents during the school’s first week back in session informing them of confirmed COVID-19 cases and pleaded with families to “stay home from school or work if sick, even if symptoms are mild.”
Paid sick days would allow workers to care for their short-term health needs or those of family members, including going to the doctor and getting tested for COVID-19. Businesses will benefit from higher employee productivity, healthier workplaces, and lower employee turnover. Studies show that employees working while sick cost the national economy approximately $160 billion per year. Current conditions following the recent openings of Virginia’s schools clearly indicate that paid sick days would play a vital role in avoiding the exponentially accelerated exacerbation of a public health crisis.
“Now that school is back in session, it is vital to my family to have paid sick leave,” said Tameka Franklin, a mother from Fredericksburg, VA. “As a single mother of 2 young children, ensuring that I am able to care for my children and not worry about the sick leave being reflected on my paycheck is critical.”
A recent poll from Christopher Newport University’s Wason Center shows that 88% of Virginians support a law that would require employers to provide five paid sick days per year.
Virginians for Paid Sick Days is a coalition of 25 organizations across the state fighting to establish a paid sick day standard that keeps Virginians healthy and keeps our economy running.
The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy advocates economic, racial, and social justice in Virginia’s policies and practices through education, prayer, and action. VICPP is a non-partisan coalition of 750 faith communities working for a more just society.
Ayesha Gilani Taylor, Director of Communications
Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy
Jared Leopold, Leopold Strategies