The Moneyist: I’m a cashier at a truck stop in Minnesota. I have COPD, asthma and hypertension. I’m scared of contracting coronavirus. Should I stop working?

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Dear Moneyist,

I am concerned about getting sick. I am a cashier at a truck stop in Minnesota. Drivers from all over the U.S. stop at our outlet. Currently, I’m working the third shift, so it’s not super busy. I wear gloves, I use sanitizer and I try to keep everything as clean as possible.

I deal with lots of credit cards and store cards. At t same time, I have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma and hypertension. I’m scared. Should I stop working? Do I continue with my precautions? What are my odds of getting sick no matter what I do?

Even small mistakes that I might make could be huge for me.


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Dear Melissa,

You are in a high risk group, given your conditions. So you’re smart to take all the recommended precautions. You could talk to your manager about erecting a temporary, high-visibility screen. Many pharmacies in Manhattan are using them to keep their employees safe. If it’s not that busy at your truck stop, you are more fortunate than many of the hospital workers, who are dealing with people are sick, and supermarket workers, who have a massive turnover of customers every day.

The government’s $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress last week expands unemployment benefits to include part-time and self-employed workers, including contractors and gig workers. Key among its provisions: It supplements state benefits with an extra $600 a week on top of whatever your state gives in weekly benefits, but that will more than double the weekly maximum unemployment benefits in most U.S. states.

I can’t tell you to stop working, but I can lay out your options. If you are relatively confident that you can survive on the unemployment benefits, plus the extra from the government (for as long as that lasts) and believe you will be able to get another job when all of this is over in a month or two, or more, then it’s worth considering. You have a lot in your favor with your prevention methods and being on a quiet shift. But you have three conditions that put you at higher risk.

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I also recommend wearing a mask. Masks are more likely to help people who are sick and/or asymptomatic from spreading the virus, but every little helps as you said. President Trump said Thursday that the White House Coronavirus Task Force will be “coming out” with a nationwide recommendation on wearing face masks. “I don’t think they’ll be mandatory because some people don’t want to do that,” Trump said. He did not indicate when that might happen.

As for your odds of getting sick, as one of our contributors wrote from Lombardy in Italy, an area that along with New York has been one of the hardest hit by this virus, “It’s like Russian roulette. Some have paid a heavier price and have lost people close to them. Others have been luckier and seem to be escaping with no casualties.” It’s an eye-opening and compelling piece. (It was also written by my sister Alison who lives there.) It helps provide perspective. Minnesota has fared better than most.

Minnesota has a stay-at-home order in place until April 10 and has more than 740 confirmed cases and 18 deaths, as you are no doubt aware. Non-essential businesses include food retailers. Express your concerns to your manager. Different states have different levels of alarm. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes an outbreak for people to act. As others have pointed out, truck drivers who deliver food and other essentials are among the unsung heroes of this crisis. And, Melissa, so are you.

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