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Local 5 - weareiowa.com | Des Moines Local News & Weather | Des Moines, Iowa

Reducing the stigma: Iowans fear testing positive while not being able to afford missing work

If people are too afraid of backlash in the workplace, they may be less likely to tell anyone about symptoms they're showing.

DES MOINES, Iowa — A Des Moines doctor said he's heard some patients are avoiding COVID-19 testing and lying about symptoms at pre-work screenings because they feel they can't afford to be sent home from work sick. 

It's no secret that COVID-19 has crippled America's economy, leading to mass layoffs and business closures. Something less talked about is the mental strain it's put on America's workforce. 

The social stigma associated with COVID-19 is impacting workers across the country and right here in Iowa. 

"Whether early March or now, there are a lot of unknowns about COVID," Dr. Yogesh Shah said. 

Dr. Shah, who is the chief medical officer and vice president of medical affairs at Broadlawns Medical Center, said it's natural for humans to find groups to place blame on when they're scared. 

In Iowa, Dr. Shah said there is a stigma surrounding workers at meatpacking plants and long-term care facilities; two industries hit hard by outbreaks at the beginning of the pandemic. 

RELATED: Some Iowans avoid COVID-19 testing out of fear

"I know a person very well who works in the meat industry," Dr. Shah said. "Rather than telling the truth when he gets asked every morning about any symptoms, he would intentionally lie. He has done that once or twice because if he says, 'yes, I have a cough' and he happens to have a mild fever, then he'd be asked to not work and leave."

Many people in these industries live paycheck to paycheck. They can't afford to take time off work.

"Early on as we know there was no clarity about whether you'd be paid for taking time off because of COVID," Dr. Shah said. 

Data also shows many low-wage earners live in multigenerational housing and take public transportation; two factors that can put those workers at high risk to get coronavirus and then spread it. 

"Be as factful and truthful as possible," Dr. Shah said. "By doing that, hopefully we are preventing or minimizing transmission." 

If you feel sick, Dr. Shah said it's important to stay home.

RELATED: COVID-19 in Iowa: State reports 1,323 more cases, 20.32% positivity rate and 11 additional deaths the past 24 hours

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost a quarter of American workers didn't have access to paid sick leave in March 2020.

Almost all full-time employees in America (88%) had access to paid sick leave, but less than half (45%) of part-time employees do. 

Since the pandemic started, many companies have instituted paid time off policies.

RELATED: Federal health officials unveil plan to get coronavirus shots to nursing homes