The speed with which the coronavirus has moved in recent days from a seemingly distant threat to an immediate danger has been stunning. Every hour brings news of closures, cancellations and precautions enacted to try to limit the fallout from what is already a catastrophic illness.
Schools across the region are closing, either temporarily or indefinitely, as officials try to get ahead of the outbreak. Student protests over the cancellation of winter sports playoffs were understandable at first, given players’ commitment to their teams, but the issue had a different feel after the NBA suspended its season Wednesday night when a star player tested positive for the virus. If nothing else, that should convince the young athletes that the threat is real and must be taken seriously.
But even as events move rapidly, there’s an understanding that the disruption is only beginning. It could take weeks or months before a return to anything resembling normal life can happen. No one knows how serious the virus will become, but the best advice remains to take every precaution — wash your hands, don’t touch your face, limit meetings with large groups of people and work from home if possible.
But for many people, that’s not an option. Technology has advanced to the point that many office workers can do their jobs from their living rooms, and even teachers can lead a class remotely. But service workers do not have that luxury, and the economic fallout for people who are already in lower-paying jobs will be severe.
The state needs to ensure help is available for people who cannot miss work and the paycheck that goes with it. If mass self-quarantines become common, that means fewer customers at stores and restaurants along with lost wages for people who work at those businesses. The state can act to see that aid is available for people who suffer economically from the virus’ fallout.
At the same time, some retrospective applause is due for the state passing in 2011 a mandatory sick leave law. That legislation was blasted at the time as an undue burden on businesses, with visions of employees taking advantage of the new standards. Instead, paid sick leave has proven to be beneficial to public health. Really, if someone is on the edge in deciding how they feel, do you want them serving you a sandwich? Especially in the middle of a global pandemic?
But the law doesn’t apply to everyone, including employers with fewer than 50 workers. Now would be a good time for the state to expand the law.
Gov. Ned Lamont was right to declare a public health emergency this week, but there is much more that will need to be done. The economic impact of the virus is sure to be severe, but that is insignificant compared to the potential human costs. People need to take every precaution to try to limit its fallout. And everyone needs to be prepared for a period of disruption unlike anything that most people alive today have ever experienced.