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Close to Home: COVID remains an occupational hazard

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

While no one is more tired of this pandemic than health care providers, the announcement that mask mandates are ending has left many health care providers, health care organizations and community-based organizations very concerned.

There still is a very large number of COVID-19 cases and widespread community transmission. As the mask mandate is removed, we need to recognize that the risks of reopening are not shared equally across our society. I am worried about the impact on essential workers — the people who have borne the brunt of the pandemic.

Panna Lossy
Panna Lossy

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Latinos have been disproportionately impacted by COVID; Latinos accounted for half of the cases in Sonoma County although only 27% of the population is Latino. During this winter’s omicron surge, Latinos have had more than double the transmission rate — 323 cases per 100,000 people, compared to 134 per 100,000 for whites). Adding to the effects of the actual illness, and its potential long-term health effects, is the financial impact of missing work for people who are already barely able to afford the sky-high rents in Sonoma County.

Remember the early stages of the pandemic when essential workers were heralded as heroes? These heroes are still going to work. They often spend all day in contact with the public, clearly increasing their risk of contracting COVID and bringing it home to their loved ones, even more so with the mask mandate removed.

This is an obvious example of an occupational hazard and will continue to be for the foreseeable future as waves of COVID come and go. However, we are often still asking essential workers to supply their own masks and rapid COVID tests. This is clearly unfair, especially for low-income workers who cannot afford these things on top of the cost of living in Sonoma County.

The obvious solution is to recognize that exposure to COVID is an occupational hazard and for employers to offer workers free KN95 and N95 masks and convenient access to rapid tests. Some employers already do this, which is wonderful. How can we make sure that all workers have access to the tools they need to protect themselves and their families? Our society has an obligation to protect our heroes and their families. We can’t continue to expect them to sacrifice their health and financial stability so that everyone else can get back to business as usual.

Dr. Panna Lossy is a clinical professor at UC San Francisco, faculty member at the Sutter Santa Family Medicine Residency and physician at the Santa Rosa Community Health Center.

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The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

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