IN RESPONSE to the swine flu, President Obama has been urging people to take the same steps as they would to prevent a regular flu: wash hands frequently; cover their mouths, and stay home from work if they are sick.

It's too bad that 57 million workers will have a hard time with that last one. That's the number of workers who don't have any paid sick days, according to the workplace organization 9 to 5. For those workers, taking a day off to keep from infecting co-workers and customers means losing income, or even their jobs.

What's a bigger shame - for the rest of us - is that most of the workers without paid sick time are employed in lower-wages jobs that come with wide public exposure: restaurant workers, child-care centers, nursing homes, mass-transit systems, schools and hotels.

The reality of such a disease, and the policy of allowing a systemically broken health-care system to continue couldn't be on a more dangerous collision course. Workplace issues, such as those addressed by the Healthy Families Act, which allow workers paid sick time, is another long-abandoned area that needs attention. Let's hope there's time to fix both. *