To slow coronavirus, a California county might pay the sick to stay home

Oakland's Lake Merritt
(Maura Dolan / Los Angeles Times)

California officials are desperate to reduce the spread of coronavirus in the workplace, which has been one reason for a surge in cases.

Could one solution be to pay people to stay home when they get sick?

A county in the San Francisco Bay Area is planning to offer stipends of $1,250 for low-income residents to stay home if they have tested positive for COVID-19.

Alameda County, the Bay Area’s second most populous county, plans to offer the payments to those who test positive, are not receiving unemployment or paid sick leave, and are referred by designated clinics in high-risk neighborhoods.


Black and Latino voters, especially those who mostly speak Spanish, are far more likely than white voters to report the virus has had an impact on jobs and health.

Aug. 6, 2020

“Many county residents who test positive for COVID-19, especially hourly workers, will need assistance in order to isolate, as they cannot afford the loss in wages,” said a staff report prepared for the Board of Supervisors. “We expect many of these individuals in need of assistance will be part of the ‘essential’ workforce who are unable to work remotely and thus are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.”

The county authorized the pilot program to not exceed $10 million.

Experts say getting infected people to stay home when sick is essential in controlling the pandemic.

Some of the hardest hit neighborhoods in Alameda County include areas in East Oakland, where more than 2,400 cases have been recorded for every 100,000 residents in the ZIP Code 94601.

But in the nearby suburb of Alameda, case rates are far lower, where more than 250 cases have been recorded for every 100,000 residents in the ZIP Code 94501.