Dear Mr. Withrow:
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the adoption of a permanent standard pertaining to COVID-19. The Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc. (DPI) is the 1,700-member trade association representing the chicken growers, companies and allied businesses in Delaware, the Eastern Shore of Maryland and the Eastern Shore of Virginia. In particular, we have two chicken company members in Accomack county that employ thousands of Virginia residents and contract with more than 60 growers. Our comments reflect the views of DPI and do not constitute a statement of admission on behalf of individual members of DPI.
To be clear, employee health and safety has been the number one priority of the Delmarva chicken companies, followed closely by providing an abundant food supply during this crisis. And the efforts that have been made have worked – prior to any regulations, emergency or permanent, being implemented. In the month of July, the Virginia Department of Health reported 13 cases associated with meat and poultry processing facilities, down from 25 in June, while the state overall saw an increase.
DPI continues to have many of the same concerns with the permanent standard as we did with the emergency temporary standards and urges the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI) not to promulgate the proposed permanent standard because the regulations are not necessary and will not allow for flexibility as more is learned about this virus. Virginia should not be making permanent regulations that are specific to a temporary virus – which we all believe COVID is.
Both the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued guidance, updated with regularity as new information is learned about the disease, to employers regarding preventative actions that can be taken to protect worker health and safety and mitigate against transmission of the disease at workplaces.
As we’ve seen over the past few months, the pandemic requires swift action and flexibility; enacting a permanent regulation prevents that from occurring. It is clearly stated on CDC’s website “This is a new virus, and CDC is actively working to learn more. We will provide updates as they become available.” However, standard regulations will not allow businesses to make take those updates into account. We have seen that happen already with CDC updating interim guidance, in particular for critical infrastructure workers, allowing for workers that have had potential exposure to continue working, as long as they are asymptomatic and precautions are taken.
DPI would recommend rather than creating a permanent standard, the emergency temporary standard should allow for extension as long as the executive order is in place. This makes the most sense rather than setting a precedent of a permanent standard on a temporary issue.
The chicken community on the Eastern Shore of Virginia already recognizes that employee safety is a priority, and we will continue to follow all guidance that is provided from CDC, based on any updates that scientists and researchers discover as they learn more about coronavirus. However, these regulations are not going to provide any additional safety to the employees of Virginia and we urge DOLI to not promulgate them.