Roy Gilbert

Coronavirus can be avoided by working from home. But what if your job puts you in front of people?

Workers wearing protective gears spray disinfectant inside a plane bound for New York as a precaution against coronavirus at Incheon International Airport in Incheon, South Korea, on March 4. The coronavirus epidemic shifted increasingly westward toward the Middle East, Europe and the United States on Tuesday, with governments taking emergency steps to ease shortages of masks and other supplies for front-line doctors and nurses.

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At 4:50 a.m. one day back in the middle of January, Valarie Smith was getting ready to clean yet another wide-body jet that had arrived at Los Angeles International Airport.

A year into her night-shift job, Smith knew the choreographed routine by heart. Picking up trash, wiping down seats, carrying out used blankets and pillows. But this time, nerves got the better of her. Smith had heard of the emerging virus that was sickening people in China , so she asked her supervisor if the plane had come from Asia.

“I wanted to know if this jet had come in contact with coronavirus, and he just said he would never put anyone in jeopardy,” says Smith, 51. “I felt nervous. My boss and I had words.”

Smith and her team cleaned the jet, armed with some protective clothing as well as gloves and masks . The unease, however, stalks her daily.

“This is your health,” she says. “Everybody’s nervous.”

As the renamed COVID-19 virus continues to sicken people in the U.S. and around the world, officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have encouraged working from home as a way to help cut back contagion.

Daily coronavirus updates: Get them in your email. Sign up here But not only do most U.S. workers not have that luxury — just 29% have the option to work remotely, according to Labor Department data — many have frontline exposure to the virus because their jobs put them in front of people.Airport workers, bus drivers, […]

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