Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

An estimated 25-30 million people are caught in the middle of the coronavirus economy — they’re unable to work from home but also face a high risk of severe infection.

Why it matters: The impossible choice between lives and livelihoods falls mainly to lower-wage workers in service industries.

By the numbers: According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data published before the pandemic hit, slightly more than two-thirds of American workers cannot work virtually.

  • There are 38 million workers who are at risk of severe illness due to COVID because of underlying health conditions.
  • Another 12 million high-risk adults are not working, but live with someone who is.
  • That means roughly 25 to 30 million high risk workers cannot work virtually.
  • The number may be an under-estimate because pre-existing conditions are more prevalent among lower-income people, who are less likely to be able to work at home.

Between the lines: If you work for any number of public-facing small businesses — an auto body shop or a dry cleaner or a pizza place — your boss will need you back at work for the business to function, but interaction with customers will likely increase your risk of infection.

  • Many of these same workers also will rely on public transportation to get to work.

What’s next: The Trump administration is considering a back-to-work bonus, which could put more money in vulnerable workers’ pockets while also making them feel more pressure to return to work as soon as possible,

Go deeper

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Politics: The swing states where the pandemic is raging — Pence no longer expected to attend Barrett confirmation vote after COVID exposure.
  2. Health: 13 states set single-day case records last week
  3. Business: Where stimulus is needed most.
  4. Education: The dangerous instability of school re-openings.
  5. States: Nearly two dozen Minnesota COVID cases traced to 3 Trump campaign events
  6. World: Unrest in Italy as restrictions grow across Europe.
  7. Media: Fox News president and several hosts advised to quarantine.
Sep 29, 2020 - Health

NYC's coronavirus positivity rate spikes to highest since June

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

New York City's coronavirus positivity rate has ticked up to 3.25%, its highest since June, Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference on Tuesday.

Why it matters: The jump — from 1.93% on Monday — came on the first day that public elementary classrooms reopened in the city after months of closures, but guidelines state that all public schools will have to shut if the citywide seven-day positivity rate stays above 3%.

7 former FDA commissioners say Trump is undermining the agency's credibility

Food and Drug Administration headquarters in White Oak, Maryland. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

Seven former FDA commissioners accused the Trump administration of "undermining the credibility" of the agency in a Washington Post op-ed published Tuesday.

Why it matters: The editorial comes amid fears that the Trump administration has politicized the coronavirus response and is seeking expedited approval and distribution of a possible vaccine.