A law allowing employees up to 80 hours of paid leave for COVID-19 expired at the end of September, but with unprecedented numbers out sick, California lawmakers may bring it back.

Here’s yet another heartbreaking COVID-19 reality from the frontline healthcare worker field — as Omicron cases (and exposures) surge, nurses are being forced to use their vacation pay when they’re infected with or sick with the virus. That’s just one labor sector that rallied on a conference call with California lawmakers Thursday to bring back extended COVID-19 sick pay, renewing a program that expired last September 30 that allowed up to 80 hours of sick pay, reimbursed by the government.

“We’ve already implemented the policy once, we need to implement it again immediately,” state senator Dave Cortese (D) of Santa Clara said on the Thursday call. “Supplemental paid sick leave is one of the most important weapons against the virus to slow the spread. That’s the science, not just an economic issue or a worker protection issue, but the science.”

That previous program that expired in September was intended to “ensure access to up to 80 hours of COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave for eligible employees, including those advised to quarantine or isolate and those caring for COVID-impacted family members,” according to a statement last March from the governor’s office. “Small businesses employing 25 or fewer workers are exempt from the legislation, but may offer supplemental paid sick leave and, if eligible, receive a federal tax credit.”

But the federal money is not around anymore, because the Biden stimulus package only provided federal funds through September 30. The state of California would be on the hook for the reimbursement this time around, though the state is rocking a $46 billion surplus at the moment.

There is no actual piece of legislation on the state house floor right now, so no timeline on when the expanded COVID-19 sick leave would kick in. And since there’s no legislation, there’s no guarantee it would cover up to 80 hours. The California Chamber of Commerce is prodding lawmakers to lower it to 40 hours. That may seem heartless. But their spokesperson Ashley Hoffman makes an excellent point to the Chronicle that this could lead to the “continued subsidization of people choosing to be unvaccinated.”

Related: SF City Officials Won't Order Any New COVID Restrictions; Private Healthcare Networks Need to Do More Testing [SFist]

Image: Andre m via Wikimedia Commons