States that gained access to emergency paid sick leave during the pandemic saw 400 fewer COVID-19 cases per day, a new study has found.

Investigators examined the number of infections in these states following enactment of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, or FFCRA, in March. The act called for two weeks of paid employee sick leave as part of a larger effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. 

Researchers compared this post-FFCRA case data with infection numbers before FFCRA in the same states, and in states that already had enacted sick pay mandates prior to the FFCRA.

The results are statistically significant, translating to about one prevented COVID-19 case per day per 1,300 workers who were newly able to take paid sick leave, reported Nicolas R. Ziebarth, Ph.D., of Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.

Although it may have been a “highly effective policy tool” to keep coronavirus infections from trending upward, the FFCRA’s paid leave policy may only be effective in the short term, Ziebarth and colleagues wrote.

The act is set to expire at the end of this year. Once two paid weeks off are taken as a precautionary measure or due to quarantining, some employees may choose to work sick in the future, potentially spreading the virus, the authors explained. 

“This is a particular risk during times of economic hardship when employees are afraid of losing their job,” they concluded.

The new study was published in Health Affairs last week, ahead of print.