At risk: vulnerable families afraid of workers bringing home COVID-19

Posted at 8:57 PM, May 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-07 23:57:58-04

GILBERT, AZ — As the debate continues about the logistics of reopening industries in Arizona for people with underlying conditions, the decision isn't just financial; it could mean life or death.

Gilbert mom Rebecca Bustillos, says her most of the people in her family have compromised immune systems. So they are cautious with their health even outside of a global pandemic.

"If we even go out to the market and somebody's coughing, we cannot go down the aisle. We have to go the other way. We have to turn around and walk away," she said.

Rebecca says she her husband, two daughters and two grandsons, have various conditions ranging from asthma, autoimmune disease, to diabetes. It's why she's so concerned that one of her daughters is being called back to work in a Valley restaurant. ABC15 is not naming her or the business to protect her job.

"We are just scared to death," she said.

And she says when her daughter raised concerns after finding out earlier in the week that her restaurant was reopening, Rebecca says it was made clear if she did not return, "that she would be fired."

That would also make her ineligible for unemployment benefits.

Rebecca says she feels families like hers are being sacrificed unnecessarily, and she's afraid.

"For her to bring the virus home to the rest of us and for all of us to have to die behind this one thing. This one situation that we have absolutely no control over," she said.

The Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) told ABC15 that "individuals may continue to receive benefits if they have good cause not to return to an employer, which can include pandemic-related situations. This is determined on a case-by-case basis."

But getting through to the people who make those determinations could take weeks.

"We're trying to get up and find answers. We're trying to make our voices be heard. And people to understand that we are here," Rebecca said.

She says she has contacted both Arizona senators.

She says Senator Martha McSally's office forwarded her to a recording.

But she did get a response from Senator Kyrsten Sinema's office.

"They're getting us a caseworker. They called me from Washington yesterday," she said.

Senator Sinema's office tells ABC15:

"Kyrsten is urging Arizona's state government to adhere to CDC guidelines and only reopen when it is safe to do so. In order to keep Arizonans safe and healthy, the CDC recommends states increase testing and show a clear decrease in positive cases over a two week period – Arizona does not yet meet those qualifications.

Kyrsten has reached out to DES to ask how they will help workers with underlying conditions who are afraid, unable, or unwilling to return to work due to the continued spread of coronavirus and will continue to press DES for those answers. Kyrsten also continues to push for additional federal assistance for Arizona businesses and families during these extraordinarily difficult times."

Senator McSally's office did not respond to ABC15's request for comment.

Rebecca says her daughter had to choose between endangering their family's health and a paycheck. She says she had no choice but to choose the check but she hopes it won't last long enough to devastate her family.

"We want the right to work. We want the right to take care of our family. And this is not the way to do it yet," Rebecca said. "We need to bring our numbers down. Just like they said 14 days of numbers going down. And people not dying. That's it, that's it. Then our community can get back on their feet."