- Nicole Vulcan
Maybe it's our Wild West mentality. Maybe it's our sense of individuality and our can-do attitudes. Or maybe we're just stuck in a system that has most of us on the hamster wheel, working to pay for housing that is more expensive than the wages our region currently supports. But whatever its origins, now is not the time to allow one's bootstrap exceptionalism and overblown sense of perseverance to get in the way of common sense.
As novel coronavirus begins to crop up in our state, now is the time to listen to the basic, yet potentially life-saving advice of public health officials: Stay home and avoid contact with others if you're showing symptoms of cold or flu. Wash your hands frequently, for at least 20 seconds at a time, with soap. And call your doctor before you show up at their office, so that their staffs can plan for what to do when you arrive. These are very basic tenets, but it's clear that many people aren't following them.
On Friday, Oregonians got the news that the state had seen its first "presumed case" of novel coronavirus. Within hours of the positive test results, the Oregon Health Authority, Gov. Kate Brown and other health officials were holding a press conference, alerting people to what they then knew. Within hours of that, a Lake Oswego school where the person with the virus worked had been declared closed for the better part of this week. Within days, two more people were discovered to have the virus in Oregon. And all during that time, people have gone about their business, bringing their coughs and sneezes into places where they shouldn't be.
No one has yet been confirmed to have novel coronavirus in Central Oregon, but since the first three cases were contracted by people who hadn't recently traveled to the most affected countries, Oregon epidemiologists believe there are far more people who have the virus than we know about right now. That means that the cough you now have could very well be one of the other garden-variety versions... or it could be IT, and your co-workers don't want you to gamble on whether it's one or the other.
We know that in Central Oregon, there are too many people out there who are rent-burdened and forced to work multiple jobs just to pay the bills. Similarly, there are too many people for whom health care costs are out of control—for whom a high-deductible plan seemed like a good way to "get coverage" and avoid government fines at tax time, but for whom now, seeing a doctor is yet another expense, and paying out of pocket toward that high deductible is yet another burden. There are many others whose childcare coverage is spotty, at best, and for whom pulling a kid out of school means missing more work themselves.
And yet, staying home and avoiding exposing other people is still the right thing to do. Taking sick time won't necessarily result in paid time off, but Oregon law dictates that employees get the time to heal.
As Oregon Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle pointed out in a press release Monday: "Your employer must pay you your regular wage when you take sick time if they have more than 10 employees (6 or more in Portland). Otherwise, sick time is unpaid but still protected." Oregonians get at least one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours they work, Hoyle wrote. Employees can start taking paid sick time after they've worked for an employer for at least three months. Oregon is one of just 10 states with paid sick leave laws.
As coronavirus spreads to Oregon, it's important to listen to the advice of health experts: Cover coughs and sneezes. Call the doctor before you go in. And stay home if you're sick. You live in a state where you have the right to do so.