Saturday, May 2, 2009

Stay Home if Swine Flu is a Possibility ... but How?

The Swine Flu has arrived, and people are frightened. It's no surprise to me, for one, that "pandemic" and "panic" start with the same three letters. Pandemonium. Mary just sent me an article link exploring the somewhat contradictory directions we are being given. And I don't mean in terms of getting sick.

Recent statistics claim that 57 million Americans have no paid sick time. If they (or their family members) are sick, they must make that agonizing choice to either go to work sick or stay home then suck it up on payday. Not a good option either way.

With the economy being what it is, a reduction in work force because employees are told to stay home if suffering from certain symptoms could be disastrous, to both workplace production and employee job security. However, at the same time, nobody wants the first three letters in pandemic to turn to "epi".

The article talks about something called "presenteeism", which is basically when someone who should be absent from work instead goes in sick. A 2004 study by Cornell, in fact, found that $180 billion each year is lost to "presenteeism" due to lack of productivity brought about by sick employees that go to work anyway.

As someone who has been guilty of presenteeism (I go to work unless one of my kids is home sick ... or I'm in the hospital with pancreatitis), I think this is very accurate. If you ask my students, for example, when we watch movies or do busywork worksheets or something less exciting than my class usually is, they can tell you, "Oh, Mrs. L had a cold that day" or "Mrs. L lost her voice and couldn't talk" or something like that. The irony is, it's fairly easy for me to take time off from work--I just don't like to.

Companies and schools and public places and airplanes and so on are saying, "If you're exhibiting symptoms of Swine Flu, just stay home." However, is it really that simple? And is this indicative of a bigger problem?

Despite my aversion to missing work, if I suddenly came down with flu-like symptoms and was running a high fever, I'd call in. I wouldn't want to expose my students and colleagues to anything potentially dangerous. However, I have that luxury.

What about the 57 million people out there that don't?


  1. Americans don't have much paid leave. It's a sad fact. And I think many people hope Obama is going to "shake things up."

  2. I'm guilty as well-come in and sneeze on others. The ironic part is that I get really annoyed when other people come in and they're sick. But I digress; I have the option to stay home as well. It doesn't speak highly of our country that we don't care for the sick (or mandate paid maternity leave, but that's another story). It just doesn't.

  3. Not to mention all the sick kidlets with high fever and other maladies who are sent to school all the time!

  4. In the middle of each semester when the first rounds of flu begin to circulate, I give a lecture to my students about why I don't want them to come to class if they are sick (college campuses are disease incubators). But, inevitably, I still have comatose students dragging themselves to their desks, clearly miserable and needed fluids.

    And I'm usually sick a week later.

  5. We dealt with this last week, and with an immune disease, I have dealt with it my whole life. I flew for Southwest Airlines and they actually fired me because I was sick too often. I didn't meet the criteria for FMLA, so I was out. So much for not discriminating.

    This last week my son was sick with strep. Neither the husband or I have any paid sick time and since he was laid off and took a low-paying job for the insurance, there is no room to spare in our budget. So, we had to ship our sick child to a town 45 minutes away to stay with his 80 year-old great-grandmother for the week. That goes against every maternal instinct that I have. I wasn't the one to take care of him, to hold him, to comfort him. I hate that. While I could never stay home for good, I enjoy my work too much, I would appreciate if I didn't have to worry about being fired for missing time to be with my sick child. Nevermind paying the bills.

    Finally, speaking from the perspective of a person with an immune deficiency, there is nothing more dangerous to me than preseenteism. You may come to work with a runny nose and a cough, but I end up in the hospital with pneumonia. Something that hardly slows you down can take me out completely.

    However, as long as our nation doesn't protect its workers, this will continue to be an issue. I work for a small business that won't provide anything more than what is legally required. Without a mandate, this will always bring us down.

  6. Don't forget, that this is as much a media panic as anything.

    In Britain (and it's probably similar in the US) 100 people die from the flu every year, but it doesn't make headlines. So far we've had five cases over here, two are still in hospital and three have been released after recovering.

    Whilst the press keep comparing it to the flu pandemic of 1918, the conditions are far different: we're not recovering from a destructive war and people's health is, generally, far better.

    Within the next few weeks reality will hit, the story will die and the press will move on to the next panic.

    As for 'time off for sickness', we're lucky here in Europe in that's it's seen as a right, something that caught my brother out when he moved to the US to get married.

    I hope Obama can improve it for you. People matter more than money, society more than economics.

  7. Martin-no doubt this is a media panic. It's quite absurd, really (and that is in my professional opinion, which is very applicable to the subject). I don't think that was the point, though. The point was that it is absurdly unfair for a government that does not guarantee its workers the right to heal when sick to advise people to avoid working when sick. So many have no choice.

    I hope Obama can improve it too!

  8. Very thoughtful post! Well worth a discussion! Thanks! I'll be interested in continuing to read the comments!

  9. Me too : ) ... readers are doing all the work here! I think that's wonderful : ) !!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. It's been interesting to see people's reactions with this. I was in the grocery store yesterday, standing in the deli section, when one of the workers let out a great big cough. I swear, literally EVERYONE turned around and looked at her. Kind of strange, and a little intimidating if you just have to cough.

  11. This is exactly what I was worried about. All we've done all week is leave a bunch of kids with no supervision... I really feel like the school districts dropped the ball on this one.