Not all employees can stay home – workers need safe workplaces & paid sick leave

Update on March 10,2020: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 30 million people or about 24% of U.S. workers lack access to sick pay.

As another 10 more people tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total to 31 cases late in the day on March 4th, King County announced that all King County non-essential meetings are cancelled and is encouraging county employees that can to work from home until the end of the month. Further,

Workplaces should enact measures that allow people who can work from home to do so. Taking these measures can help reduce the number of workers who come into contact with people with COVID-19 and help minimize absenteeism due to illness.

King County Public Health News Release & Blog, March 3, 2020

Thanks to the media we learned that employees in large private sector companies have also tested positive for COVID-19. This means the cases are not limited to the Life Care facility in Kirkland, once called the Seattle epicenter. This means community spread is occurring. We do not know how big the spread is, but we know the numbers of cases and deaths are increasing.

The private sector responded on March 4:

  • Amazon told us that an employee in its Brazil building tested positive and is in quarantine at home. On March 3rd we learned the employee went home sick on February 25th.
  • Facebook is encouraging all 5,000 Seattle-based employees to work from home until March 31. It closed its Stadium East building until Monday, the end of the incubation period for a contractor who tested positive.
  • Microsoft announced its Seattle and Silicon Valley workers can work from home until March 25th. Data center and retail employees need to report to work and the company implemented “limiting prolonged close interactions with people” ie, social distancing.

And today King County strengthened its recommendations and added a paragraph acknowledging not all employees can work/stay at home.

Some people need to be at work to provide essential services of great benefit to the community. They can also take steps in their workplaces to minimize risk.

https://www.kingcounty.gov/depts/health/news/2020/March/5-slowing-the-impact.aspx

Because we are dealing with a public health outbreak, this information and shift raises some serious questions that we need to ask ourselves and employers:

  • How many additional people were exposed to COVID-19 during the week that Amazon delayed closing its Brazil building?
  • Did Facebook close its Stadium East building the day that the contractor tested positive? The incubation period is 14 to 27 days – the building is opening on Monday, March 9th – what date was the building closed??
  • When were other Facebook employees and contractors notified that a co-worker tested positive? What measures were they told to follow?
  • How are employers working to protect those employees who have to report to work – data center, retail, utilities, essential government employees, healthcare providers, first responders, clergy?
  • What help do employers need to ensure they understand how to effectively “clean” contaminated facilities?
  • How are people who are entrusted to “clean” contaminated facilities being trained? Who does the training? How do cleaners keep themselves protected from exposure?
  • What if I don’t work for Amazon, Facebook or Microsoft?
  • How do small to medium sized employers protect their owners/employees?
  • How can small businesses remain in business if their owners get sick?
  • What about the working poor whose jobs cannot be performed at home and /or who do not have sick leave benefits? – waiters/waitresses, retail clerks, warehouse, baristas, bartenders, laborers, house cleaners, pet walkers etc.

Today, about 24% of U.S. workers lack access to sick pay, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or more than 30 million people. Many of them are low-wage workers whose jobs involve working closely with the public – restaurant and retail workers, health-care aides – and this could conceivably make them virus “super spreaders.”

Coronavirus daily news update, March 10: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the nation, Seattle Times, March 10, 2020

We need a fund to provide sick leave benefits for the 30 million people who do not have sick leave.

Should this be a Federal fund? a State of Washington fund?

We need a law to ensure sick employees who stay at home are not fired for staying at home under quarantine.

Our economy is based on consumers buying products. What to we need to put in place to help us slow this economy down, protect workers and prevent collapse?

We need to slow the spread down!

On March 5th, Seattle & King County Public Health announced today 20 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 in King County residents. This brings the total number of confirmed cases in King County to 51, including 10 deaths.

On March 10th, Seattle-King County Public Health announced today’s COVID-19 numbers are released by King County: officials confirm 74 additional coronavirus cases today, bringing the total for King County to 190. Two new deaths were reported, bringing the total number of COVID-19 fatalities in King County to 22 people.

This is a four-fold increase in 5 days. This is not slowing things down…just the opposite, the community spread in Greater Seattle is speeding up.

This is not good.

Coronavirus
COVID-19

Employers need a business continuance plan for a pandemic. Here is a planning document from King County Public Health & CDC.

Let’s have a plan.

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