Dear Mr. Withrow and the Members of the Safety and Health Codes Board,
My name is Manuel Gago, and I’m a senior community organizer with the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC). LAJC is a statewide organization that provides free legal representation to low-wealth people throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, aiming to address the root causes of injustice and poverty. Among other things, LAJC provides representation to individuals in their efforts to maintain safe and healthy workplaces where their dignity is recognized and upheld. I want to make a comment on behalf of?our client base and Virginia’s workers.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been on the ground working with the community and workers in a host of industries. When COVID-19 first began sweeping across the nation as a part of a still-ongoing global pandemic, Virginia was the first state to adopt workplace standards to protect workers and their families from the deadly virus. These standards served as a leading example for other states across the US. Locally, these standards protected workers and have kept Virginia safe and productive. Although Americans and Virginians are understandably anxious to be “back to normal,” even today, much remains uncertain about the full impact of the virus going into the future1 COVID-19 is not gone just because people want it to be gone. We have to create a new normal – the old normal no longer exists.
COVID-19 has already killed more than 967,450 Americans and 19,392 Virginiansii (as of March 17, 2022). This is up from 924,000 Americans and 17,779 Virginians when we last gave an oral public comment to this Board in February 2022. In other words, in Virginia alone, more than 1,600 individuals have died in just the past month.
As the world barrels into reopening despite waning efficacy of vaccines,iii variants that are more resistant to vaccines,iv the lack of a vaccine for children under 5 years of age, efficacy concerns for vaccines for immunocompromised individuals,vi the ability to be reinfected,vii and the near-certainty of future variants,viii it is imperative that we take a moment to pause and consider what the health outcomes are of removing all protections. Indeed, right now, Europe is starting to see yet another surge.ix
No one enjoys taking COVID-19 precautions like wearing masks, but we do it because we live in a society, and part of living in a society means considering that the choices we make impacts not just our own selves, but all of society. This is why we get vaccinated for diseases like polio and mumps, why employees are required to wash their hands after going to the bathroom, and why smoking is no longer permitted in restaurants, to name but a few commonplace public health measures. We do these things because it protects ourselves and, importantly, those around us.
Virginia’s standards have saved lives with common-sense protections that this Board adopted, like wearing masks, reporting cases, and exposure notification. The standards are simple, easy to manage ways to mitigate the continued spread of COVID-19 as we try to create a new normal. What is more, by maintaining enforceable measures, employers that are not in compliance are not gaining a competitive advantage over employers that are playing by the rules. Furthermore, given variations of these standards have already been in place for more than a year and a half, employers have already invested in these measures and, thereby, in protecting their most valuable asset – their workers’ lives. These are not new costs, but instead, we are simply maintaining those that have already been in place now for a long time.
In the end, Virginia is a leader on this issue, and this standard has saved lives. Let’s not go backward. Finally, we should always put human lives over some extra dollars of profit.
Thanks so much for your time and for giving us the opportunity to make this comment.
Senior Community Organizer Farmworker Team
Legal Aid Justice Center
i Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count, The New York Times (March 17, 2022), https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/us/covid-cases.html (Last accessed March 17, 2022)
ii Tracking Coronavirus in Virginia: Latest Map and Case Count, The New York Times (March 17, 2022), https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/us/virginia-covid-cases.html (Last accessed March 17, 2022).
iii Study shows waning effectiveness of third dose of mRNA vaccines, Science Daily (Feb. 11, 2022), https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/02/220211161300.htm (Last accessed March 17, 2022).
iv Kevin Breuninger, WHO warns new Covid variants could emerge that are fully resistant to vaccines as pandemic drags on, CNBC (Dec. 29, 2021), https://www.cnbc.com/2021/12/29/who-warns-vaccine-resistant-covid-variants-could-emerge-amid-pandemic.html (Last accessed March 17, 2022).
v Caroline Chen, What’s Holding Up the COVID Vaccines for Children Under 5?, ProPublica (March 3, 2022), https://www.propublica.org/article/whats-holding-up-the-covid-vaccines-for-children-under-5 (Last accessed March 17, 2022).
vi Ed Yong, The Millions of People Stuck in Pandemic Limbo, The Atlantic (Feb. 16, 2022), https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2022/02/covid-pandemic-immunocompromised-risk-vaccines/622094/ (Last accessed March 17, 2022).
vii Nicola Davis, Covid reinfection: how likely are you to catch virus multiple times?, The Guardian (Jan. 21, 2022), https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/21/covid-reinfection-how-likely-are-you-to-catch-virus-multiple-times (Last accessed March 17, 2022).
viii Nicoletta Lanese, Omicron's not the last variant we'll see. Will the next one be bad?, Live Science (Jan. 12, 2022), https://www.livescience.com/coronavirus-variants-after-omicron-2022 (Last accessed March 17, 2022).
ix Tim Loh, Europe Is Getting Hit by Covid Resurgence After Rushed Exit, Bloomberg (March 15, 2022), https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-03-15/europe-is-getting-caught-by-a-covid-resurgence-after-rushed-exit (Last accessed March 17, 2022).