In The News
Closing Schools To Control Flu Epidemic Puts Jobs At Risk
You know that note you get from the school nurse asking you to consider leaving your child at home at the first signs of the sniffles and cough? Well, she’s on to something. Turns out Canadian researchers have found compelling evidence that keeping kids at home, or better yet, that closing schools altogether, is an effective way to control a flu epidemic.
Most parents of school-aged kids such as myself have seen it first hand where one kid in your child’s class comes in, and then next thing you know, your own child is stricken with the flu. I doubt many of us would argue that keeping kids home, away from the contagions so often found and rapidly spread in a classroom environment, is a bad idea – but good luck finding an employer who would agree or even care.
When my teen was only less than a year old, and I was a single mom experiencing borderline poverty, I worked as a low level secretary at a department that published legal books for a major publisher here in NYC. My bosses consisted of about 5 lawyers turned editors: 4 men and one woman. It was a cold winter and I placed my child in daycare. He immediately became ill with fevers, coughs, stomach virus, the works. I missed a lot of days from work as the daycare center didn’t want him to come in – to avoid getting the other kids sick – and I frequently visited the doctor trying to find ways to improve his failing health.
On a snowy afternoon, as I made my way back home from a doctor’s visit for my sick baby, I got a call from my female boss wondering when I would be back to work. After explaining that my child was sick and doctors couldn’t treat him, she firmly said, “Figure it out, or else.”
A few weeks later they called me into human resources and fired me – but not before offering me 3 months continued health insurance if I signed an agreement to not sue them, which of course, I did.
That night, with no job, no support, a sick baby and on the verge of homelessness, my son had his first of many febrile seizures.
I think of the stress and sadness of those days every single time one of my kids gets sick and they have to stay home. As someone who works from home, I don’t have to worry about calling a boss or having to explain that my child is sick. My husband, who works out at an office, also has the reassurance that I will be there for our boys. But there are many others, either single or with partners, who can’t take the time off from work to care for their children when schools close or the nurse advices they not go in.
Though I agree that what the scientists have found can be a great answer to reducing the risks of any epidemic, I know that we don’t live in a society where employers really care and where putting family first can be professional suicide.
As career women who choose to have a family we are often forced to let go of our jobs in order to better care for them, unless we have the financial support – or family – to help us, something which a lot of American families do not.
Until we can change how this country prioritizes the time we need for our families and we establish a better life/work balance, I doubt that any scientific finding will make much of a difference in how we can better deal with the flu and epidemics overall.