Early this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that anyone with flu symptoms stay home from work or school.
President Obama reiterated that advice at his press conference on Wednesday night. "If you are sick, stay home," he said. "If your child is sick, keep them out of school."
"I know it sounds trivial," the president said, after asking families to start taking other "very sensible precautions" like washing hands and covering up during coughs. "But it makes a huge difference."
The president's admonition to the sick to stay home didn't sound trivial to Silvia Del Valle, a 42-year-old restaurant worker in Miami.
It sounded impossible.
When I spoke to her Thursday morning, Del Valle was sick in bed with a cough and a fever. Was she planning to go to work, I asked her, Obama's press conference still fresh in my mind.
"Yes," she said. "I need to go. Because if I don't go, I lose my job."
Del Valle's not alone. Nearly half of all private sector workers in our country – more than 59 million people – have no paid sick time at all. The problem is particularly acute among women, low-wage workers – more than three-quarters of whom have no paid sick days – and part-timers.
Food service employees are the least likely to have access to sick leave. According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, only 14 percent of the people serving and handling food in restaurants can stay home from work when they're coughing and sneezing, without fear of losing their jobs. José Oliva, the policy coordinator for the advocacy group Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, told me that among the food service employees he normally counsels – many of whom, like Del Valle, speak poor English and earn well below the minimum wage for tipped employees – only about one percent can stay home sick without the fear of losing pay or even their jobs.