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Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
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Safety and Health Codes Board
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9/16/20  4:25 pm
Commenter: Anonymous

There has to be a reasonable balance
 

This temporary standard has not been in force long enough to measure its effectiveness, and therefore making it permanent is premature at best, and an abuse of power at worst. 

Many organizations enacted the majority of the measures within these standards long before they were standards because they cared about their employees and consumers and they had to maintain operations for the good of those people and their surrounding community.  But they did so not assuming if they didn't they'd be investigated, fined, jailed or shut-down if they didn't.  And they certainly didn't do it with the expectation that a one-size-fits-all would apply to every business.  

The intent of these standards, slowing the spread of this particular contagion, should be commended.  Face coverings work to absorb many (not all) respiratory droplets in a piece of fabric instead of allowing free dispersion through the air.  Sanitation and disinfection works to kill active germs on people and surfaces.  Physical distancing works to limit exposure potential between infected and non-infected people by choosing to assume all people could be infected. 

Unfortunately, these are all systems that cannot be 100% effective as they require the participation of all parties, at all times.  And businesses cannot be held responsible for the behavior of employees and consumers when they are not on the premises of the business.

Ultimately, employees do not spend their entire lives at work, so making the assumption that multiple people who work for the same business and are infected with a highly contagious virus (that is in community spread) were infected as the result of the conditions of that workplace is absurd.  

Businesses cannot police the behavior of their employees or consumers during the times when they are not on premises of the business.

However, businesses are now under heightened scrutiny and risk of liability should either a consumer or employee become ill.  Businesses must report to the VDH, even though a positive test has already been shared with VDH.  And if multiple employees test positive, the business must also report to DOLI as the business is now considered the site of an "outbreak," despite there being no absolute method to determine where that individual transmitted the disease.  Correlation does not equate causality yet in this case, an ill person's employer is under investigation.

If two employees who follow the employer's Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan during work hours, but then go on vacations and later test positive for COVID-19, it is absolutely ridiculous to assume the employer was the source of those infections and the home of an "outbreak."  

The symptoms of COVID-19 mirror those of seasonal allergies, the common cold (another coronavirus), the flu and many other conditions.  And the list of symptoms continues to change in length, severity and commonality. 

The poorly defined screening process that is required by these standards ensures that any employee could justify not coming to work nearly every single day if they so chose.  It could also ensure that any employer would be forced to send any number of their workforce home nearly every single day, based on the responses reported by the employee. 

How many people who just read that have experienced a low grade fever, or a cough within the past 8 months?  

Did they all stay home from work each time?  Did all of them get tested for COVID-19?  If they got tested, did they get their results back in a timely fashion?  Did they share those results?  

Never mind the fact that not everyone has paid sick time.  Never mind the fact that businesses need employees to operate, employees need paychecks to provide for their families, and that employees are afraid to share their positive COVID-19 test. 

Beyond the employee screening, there are still customers who refuse to wear a mask in businesses and workers who are afraid of being assaulted simply because they had the audacity to remind the customer of the law.

Even the local police department won't consistently wear face coverings in indoor settings despite the law because some of them (like many delusional Americans these days) believe the virus is a "hoax." 

How can we really expect an employee or a manager of an organization to feel confident that those same police will support them in removing somebody in the midst of a full-on "don't tread on me" tantrum because they want to buy their cigarettes without wearing a mask? 

It is safer for the business to hang a sign and not confront one of these people... their job doesn't pay them nearly enough to risk their life for it.  Managers don't make enough money to confront a headstrong hoaxer either, and the only recourse is to call the police... and then wait for them to show up to essentially say the exact same thing only while wearing a badge and a gun.  

That's not exactly great for business and there isn't any enforceable action for a business beyond no-trespass orders to keep one of those people out of their business and back in their delusions and denial.  

But just let a couple of employees of one of those establishments get COVID-19 and suddenly the business is the site of an "outbreak," and an investigation by DOLI, despite their best efforts to enforce the law and their internal policy.

Finally, to assume that this crisis is permanent places unnecessary burden on businesses and further escalates the fear of employees that they are unsafe at work.

While all the presentations from all the consultancy firms (who are making a mint off these standards) have repeatedly said that the vast majority of businesses fall into the "Medium Risk" category, more and more employees are feeling unsafe without N95 respirators, face shields and gloves despite global shortages and the fact that those items should be reserved for people working directly with patients infected with COVID-19.  

It isn't enough to have someone complete an exposure level risk assessment and conclude that face coverings, sanitation/disinfection and social distancing is sufficient if the standard itself says face coverings aren't PPE and that every employee on Earth can point out situations where those three things might not work and file an anonymous complaint against their employer.

I appreciate the intent of temporary standards and while many of them are incredibly burdensome and nearly impossible for DOLI to enforce (since their plan is to start any investigation by requesting a copy of the IDPR plan so they don't have to actually come on site), there is a solid benefit and community responsibility to protect the health of our workers and customers the best we can.

But these cannot be permanent standards.  This is not a permanent crisis nor can a business be expected to bear the full brunt of this level of scrutiny when the people these standards are implemented to protect are not under the constant supervision of businesses.  

My recommendation would be to continue with the existing temporary standard as is until the 5th month, and then extend it based on the relevant science of that time, the availability of information and the progress of vaccine availability.  

Virginia showed that it can lead the nation by developing these standards in the first place.  Let it now lead by maintaining a continuous review process to ensure they are effective and not needlessly burdensome to Virginians doing their best to stay alive and stay afloat.

CommentID: 84943