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For the past six days, Kierra Santillan was off of work with a sinus infection. While a cough is the only symptom she shares with symptoms of COVID-19, or coronavirus, she was sent home from her job as a bank teller out of fear her symptoms would make patrons uncomfortable. Now, she’s starting to feel the effects financially. 

“I went to an immediate care the last time I was sent home, and they told me that even though I don’t have symptoms of coronavirus, I should go into a two-week quarantine,” Santillan said.

Santillan, 23, has two weeks of paid time off through her job, so all of her paid leave will be used by April following isolation. While her place of employment offered her time off if she needs it later in the year, it will be unpaid leave. 

Beyond using her paid time off, Santillan also fears her hours will be cut after the bank switches to drive-through only.

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“I’m an hourly employee, so if they start doing these cuts, they’re going to pay me based off of the days I work. So I’ll be paid like a part-time employee. Anyone in the service industry is getting the s**t-end of the stick right now.”

In recent weeks, COVID-19 has impacted nearly every facet of American life. Businesses have shut down temporarily, schools have switched to e-learning, and many events have been canceled to avoid large gatherings. While it’s nearly impossible to predict the long-term outcomes of this, one thing is certain: The effects of COVID-19 will immediately impact the working class.

Erin Macey, senior policy analyst for Indiana Institute for Working Families, sees the current pandemic as an opportunity for a conversation about paid leave. 

“It’s understandable why these workers would go to work sick,” Macey said. “We are working really hard right now to draw attention to the lack of paid leave available to workers in this moment, particularly as other states are enacting policies on this issue. … [COVID-19] leaves low-wage workers in Indiana with really difficult decisions to make.”

Hoosier workers whose place of employment has not shut down to address the threat of coronavirus may qualify for protection under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

This law protects paid leave in the event an employee has to take time off for a personal medical emergency or to care for a sick relative. However, there are several requirements to qualify for the Family and Medical Leave Act, including working in a company with more than 50 employees and having worked a full year with the company.

While some businesses are cutting their hours, in some cases, the number of employees is being cut. This is Santillan’s biggest fear. 

“Because I’ve been out sick, I’m worried they’re going to make the schedule without me being there, and I’ll have a zero-hour work week while still being a name on their payroll,” Santillan said. “I wouldn’t be able to get unemployment. I don’t know what my options are at this point, I’m sitting on my hands waiting for someone to give me a direct answer about what hours or jobs will be available.”

On March 16, in an attempt to help families keep their homes during the pandemic, Marion County Circuit Court Judge Sheryl Lynch ordered Small Claims Courts to remain open through the end of the month to hear non-emergency eviction cases. 

Several cities throughout the country, including Miami and Baltimore, have ordered eviction freezes in the wake of the pandemic.

While many workers face economic insecurity due to COVID-19, several companies throughout Indianapolis continue to pay their employees full salary despite being temporarily shut down or working reduced hours. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, for example, has closed to the public for two weeks while offering paid leave to staff, according to Leighann Strollo, a worker in the Sports Legends facility at the museum.

Fred Douse, who works in health insurance and as a speech coach at Ben Davis High School, sees this trend from companies as a reflection of what it means to be American. Douse has already seen some professional changes due to COVID-19 — the high school speech season was cut short statewide for the safety of students. 

“What this shows is definitely a different climate,” Douse said. “We’ve spent the last three years with a lot of hostility and division, but as usual, Americans came together when a crisis hit. We’re not looking at people as just their ethnicity, their political party or their sexual orientation. We’re looking at people as people, and looking at how this is affecting someone’s life. People care about people again. We haven’t had this kind of thing, I would say, since 9/11.”

Douse thinks the pandemic will kick-start a national conversation about health care. 

“I think this is really going to make the country look at how we handle these kinds of crises, and what kind of safety net the government provides,” he said. “In terms of insurance, you get someone treatment for the disease, stabilize them, that’s a one-time hit in terms of cost. But when you start hitting the service industry, that’s a huge economic impact.”

It is difficult to predict the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the economy, because this — closing down bars and restaurants statewide and other businesses changing their hours — is unprecedented. 

“I think the financial consequences of this will depend in part to our policy response,” Macey said. “The most vulnerable will be working class individuals. … I would hope this could be a moment of reckoning where we realize we have to set ourselves up as a society that takes care of its workers.”

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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