COVID Protections As We Reopen

    I thought things were going to be different by now.
    I thought I could forget about wearing a mask. I thought I could go out to dinner and not worry about virus exposure. I thought I could pop into a coffee shop and sit down, drink my coffee, and read the news.
    Maybe I could do all those things right now, but it doesn’t feel like I can. And I don’t think anybody knows for sure when, or if, you or I will ever be able to.
    We still have about sixty or seventy thousand people getting infected every day. We still have close to a thousand people dying every day. Those numbers have been steady for two months now. Two months is about as long as a good part of the adult population has had access to the vaccine.
    It ain’t getting any better folks.
    I really thought things would be different by now.
    Given that the numbers are steady, we have finally come to the point in our state where our governor, who by most accounts has done a pretty good job at managing this crisis, has said it is time to open the state up fully next month. If he says so, I have no reason to disagree. His stewardship has been good so far.
    When that happens, given the infection numbers, lots of people who return to work are likely going to be exposed to the virus and get sick. With only about forty to fifty percent of the population vaccinated, there are going to be plenty of unwilling hosts for the virus to do its dirty work.
    I do worry about how our work force is going to stay safe. I absolutely want to see people get back to work. But it is bad business to sacrifice our workers for the sake of some form of normalcy. So the workplaces have to be safe.
    Last week the Maryland legislature passed a bill and sent it to the governor’s desk called the Maryland Essential Workers Protection Act. At the time of this writing, it was uncertain whether Governor Hogan, a moderate Republican, would sign the legislation or veto it.
    The bill is intended to mandate that COVID-related safety regulations be put in place for frontline workers and that the state’s department of labor be authorized to enforce the regulations.
    Right now, not only in Maryland, but in almost all states including Connecticut, there are no enforcement mechanisms for ensuring that workers are kept safe from COVID-19 infection. Most employers have been pretty good about protecting workers. After all, it is in their interest to keep infection rates down. But even the best employers fail at times in key areas of protection.
    Under the Maryland legislation, the legislature has empowered the Labor Secretary in that state to establish a so-called “Emergency Temporary Standard” for COVID-specific safety regulations.         
    Nationally, Congress has debated establishing these types of temporary standards, but so far they have not gotten sufficient traction.
    Without an enforcement mechanism in place, workers have no real means of ensuring that the workplace is safe. Union workers have a little more protection because of their ability to bargain, but even they are limited in available remedies for unsafe workplaces.
    The Maryland bill is a step in the right direction. A national initiative should follow if we are truly going to turn the corner for our workers and our businesses.

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