Is COVID-19 causing a huge spike in the use of sick days?

ATLANTA — Not every worker is able to take sick days, but in this COVID-19 pandemic world, those who do appear to be using them much more than in previous years.

Channel 2 Action News anchor Jorge Estevez spoke to a Harvard professor and lung specialist who analyzes government research which finds nearly twice as many people called out sick in 2020 than 2019. Professor Adam Gaffney says he believes there’s a connection to the coronavirus.

“It means that the COVID-19 outbreak is affecting more Americans than the overall case count would lead you to believe. We found that 2 million Americans were out sick from work. That’s nearly double the number, a year previous, so this is a very big impact,” Gaffney told Estevez.


Gaffney explained the methodology and why his research focused specifically on the second week in April.

“Well, we analyze the large government survey that’s typically used to determine the number of unemployed Americans or Americans out of work, and we use that to look at the number of who are out sick from work, because of their own illness. And that allowed us to calculate the increased number of homes set with the illness, compared to a year previous,” he said.

“Certainly we don’t know the particular illness of each individual. So there may be some of those individuals who are sick from other things. The reality is is that we only looked at workers, many elderly would also have been affected who would not have counted. So I think overall this very well could be an underestimate,” he added.

Gaffney says his research found disproportionate increases in the number people home sick who were immigrants or older workers or workers with less education. He adds it squares with what doctors are seeing in intensive care units which shows the virus is affecting working class Americans of all races. The virus also appears to be disproportionately impacting Blacks and Hispanics.