Is there a coronavirus?You can’t get unemployment benefits

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On December 14, 2021, a medical worker conducts a Covid-19 swab test at the Boulder County Fairground Test Site in Longmont, Colorado.

Chet Strange/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The number of Covid-19 infections has skyrocketed, and sick Americans who missed their jobs due to the virus may want to know if they are eligible for unemployment benefits.

The short answer: they don’t.

According to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, the United States reported more than 1 million cases of new coronary pneumonia on Monday, a single-day record. The daily average number of new cases in 7 days exceeded 480,000.

Driven by the highly contagious omicron and delta virus strains, the number of cases has increased dramatically, leading to a shortage of workers and disrupting businesses. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently shortened the Covid quarantine period for asymptomatic people from 10 days to 5 days.

Michele Evermore, senior policy adviser for unemployment insurance at the U.S. Department of Labor, said that individuals who tested positive for Covid-19 and recovered at home and were isolated from others are not eligible for unemployment benefits.

Unemployment benefits are social insurance paid on a weekly basis. The law requires Americans to be “capable and have a job” to be eligible for assistance.

Evermore said that individuals with Covid-19 do not meet this core requirement.

“[Unemployment insurance] It is not intended to be used for paid sick leave,” the Department of Labor wrote to the state labor agency that manages benefits in March 2020.

Not always

This is not always the case during a pandemic. The CARES Act Relief Act created a temporary unemployment plan to provide unemployment assistance to sick individuals and others (such as odd jobs) who are not normally eligible for unemployment insurance.

The federal plan, pandemic unemployment assistance, expires on Labor Day. (Many Republican-led states opted out of the program as early as June or July.)

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Evermore said that while those who test positive for Covid-19 are no longer eligible for unemployment benefits, this is not necessarily the case for people who are quarantined due to potential Covid-19 exposure and must miss work.

She said that they may be qualified because they are technically capable and can work.

For example: People who work outdoors (maybe lumberjacks or construction workers) must be quarantined due to potential Covid exposure. Technically, they can work online for several weeks during the quarantine period. They can work, but it’s not their usual job.

“A person may be quarantined or otherwise affected by Covid-19, but still eligible for [unemployment compensation], Depends on state law,” according to a memo from the Department of Labor.

Americans with Covid-19 may receive paid sick leave through their workplace, in which case they will not need unemployment benefits.

However, the interim federal law that increased paid vacation early in the pandemic has expired. (One requires certain companies to provide paid sick leave, but it expires at the end of 2020; the other provides employers with tax credits to compensate them for the cost of vacation, but expires on September 30.)


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