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Concerns Grow Over Coronavirus Impact on Front-Line Workers

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MILWAUKEE - While the public shields itself from the new coronavirus, many front-line workers don't have the luxury of taking isolation measures.

These workers in Wisconsin are asking the federal government to provide more assistance. The front-line workers include the service industry as well as health care.

Connie Smith is vice president of the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, and also works at a Milwaukee hospital. She says not only are there concerns about staff members who provide care, but others who work at these facilities, such as housekeeping. "They're nervous going in there to clean the rooms for these patients," says Smith. "There's a lack of support or education for people who aren't as close to the situation as, like, a nurse or a trained observer is."

Meanwhile, a number of nurses associations have expressed concerns over a lack of protective gear, such as face masks. They're also concerned about the limited testing for the coronavirus, and the ripple effect it creates for the health-care system.

The Trump administration has indicated there is not a testing shortage. But the Association of Public Health Laboratories recently noted that despite improvements, there are still not enough testing kits to meet demand. The situation also has renewed calls for providing paid sick leave for the many workers in the U.S. who don't receive that benefit.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - D-Wis. - says that needs to be a top priority for Congress. "We need to make sure there is paid sick leave on an emergency basis right now to make sure that people aren't choosing between taking care of their health or paying the bills," says Baldwin. Baldwin has co-sponsored a bill that would mandate paid sick leave requirements in emergencies, but that bill was blocked by a key Senate Republican, who says it would burden small employers.

Mike Moen is the Morning Edition producer and serves as a staff reporter for WNIJ. Every morning, he works with Dan Klefstad to bring listeners the latest Illinois news. He also works with the rest of the news staff on developing and producing in-depth stories. Mike is a Minnesota native who likes movies, history, and baseball. When most people hear his last name, they assume he is 100-percent Scandinavian. But, believe it or not, he is mostly German.
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