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Coronavirus Preparedness Raises Concerns For Low-Income Ohioans

A Columbus grocery store has some empty space in the paper products aisle. Some stores are reporting items selling out or shortages of some items, such as hand sanitizer.
Karen Kasler
/
Ohio Public Radio
A Columbus grocery store has some empty space in the paper products aisle. Some stores are reporting items selling out or shortages of some items, such as hand sanitizer.

As the coronavirus spreads, people are being urged to prepare by stocking up on food and supplies, checking to see if they can work from home if schools and workplaces are shut down, and staying home if they’re sick. But these aren’t options for many lower-income people in Ohio.

Lisa Hamler-Fugitt with the Ohio Association of Foodbanks said it’s estimated more than half of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.

“So the idea that they could stockpile two weeks’ worth of food that they would need to feed themselves and their families is just unheard of," Hamler-Fugitt said. "And in fact, now’s the time to really be having a broader conversation about how we are going to respond, when in fact one in three jobs don’t pay enough to have a savings [account]."

And nine of the 10 most common jobs in Ohio, employing 1.2 million people, pay less than $34,000 a year.

Susan Smith with the Poor People’s Campaign in Columbus said those in service jobs can’t work from home, and if they don’t go to work because of coronavirus they don’t get paid.

“If it becomes a pandemic, I think a lot of people will have their eyes opened as to the condition of a vast number of people in our country who are living below the poverty line," Smith said.

If schools are shut down, not only might parents be risking jobs to stay home with their kids, but those families who rely on free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch won’t get them.

Hamler-Fugitt said there is a provision in the SNAP program that can provide people with extra food stamp benefits to replace school-based meals in emergencies, but that’s up to the federal government and states.

“Our food banks have anywhere from a 15- to 30-day supply of food. So we are very concerned about what this means to the low-income families that we currently serve," Hamler-Fugitt said. "Add to that potentially millions more that will end up losing jobs and be without pay and the kind of stress or burden that’s going to put not only on them but also our system."

And 744,000 Ohioans have no health insurance, including more than 41,000 kids.

There are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Ohio yet, although one person is under investigation for their symptoms. Seven people have tested negative for the virus so far.

The Ohio Department of Health makes the following recommendations to protect yourself from illness:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; dry hands with a clean towel or air dry hands. 
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are unavailable. 
  • Cover your mouth with a tissue or sleeve when sneezing or coughing. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands. 
  • Stay home when you are sick. 
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick.