As Coronavirus Deepens Inequality, Inequality Worsens Its Spread

In The News

The pandemic is widening social and economic divisions that also make the virus deadlier, a self-reinforcing cycle that experts warn could have consequences for years to come.

By Max Fisher and 

This can affect everyone. One study in the United States found that state-mandated sick day policies reduce the spread of an influenza epidemic by up to 40 percent. Most states have no such policy and could see far more infections as a result.

Labor inequality and poor workplace protections may exacerbate the spread of norovirus, a highly contagious stomach bug. Research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one in five food service employees went to work while sick with vomiting or diarrhea for fear of losing their jobs if they stayed home, turning restaurants into vectors for norovirus outbreaks.

Such conditions may have severely elongated the H1N1 epidemic in the United States, which killed 12,469 Americans in 2009 and 2010, according to a study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Though public health officials had urged social distancing — also a cornerstone of coronavirus prevention — spotty access to health care and the economics of part-time employment led three in 10 workers with H1N1 symptoms to continue going to work, the study found. The researchers concluded that this behavior drove a staggering 27 percent of all infections.

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