COVID-19 has disrupted nearly every aspect of our lives. One of the largest impacts has been to our businesses and their employees.
While Gov. Gary Herbert’s Coronavirus Task Force has published a book full of guidelines and best practices for businesses to follow, the reality is that a great many businesses are not equipped to implement the changes needed to keep their companies operating and their employees safe. Many business owners are confused, and many workers are frightened.
This is why two months ago, I sent Gov. Herbert a letter urging him to prioritize the implementation of a rapid response unit to help employers deal with a possible COVID-19 infection at a jobsite.
This request came to life following the frantic calls I received from employers after discovery of an ill employee. “Who do I call?” “What is the procedure for businesses?” “How can I protect my employees?” These were the cries I heard over and over.
The idea of making available units to come to jobsites at an employer’s request to screen employees and assist in determining which employees should be tested, which should be quarantined and which remain safe to continue working. This idea received overwhelming encouragement from organizations like Workers Compensation Fund, the Salt Lake Chamber, the Utah League of Cities and Towns, the Association of General Contractors, the Utah Manufacturers Association, Utah AFL-CIO and many others.
Mobile screening units can rapidly deploy for emergency use. If an employee on a worksite develops symptoms of a possible COVID-19 infection, other employees may become hesitant to continuing working. With one call, a unit can activate to evaluate employees to determine which workers can continue to work and who, if any, need to go home.
This procedure allows the work to continue by providing additional protection to workers while allowing those who need isolate to do so. This prevents a shutdown of an entire workplace, allowing quick decision-making on-site.
Two months after I made this proposal, the administration has done nothing to implement this program. So, what’s the problem? Why hasn’t this simple and relatively cheap way to support labor and businesses actualized? It’s certainly not because of a lack of money.
The latest figures reveal that Utah has ample COVID funds to implement greater safety protocols for our workers who continue to support all of us in this hard time. What is the governor waiting for? We have the dollars ready to help those on the frontlines.
Expecting Utahns to fully report back to work without proper protections and a plan for screening is callous, irresponsible, and a recipe for another possible economic closure. Many in our workforce have consistently reported for duty during this public health crisis, and as more people return in these coming weeks and months, it must be the primary goal of policymakers to implement proactive, commonsense measures to keep all workers, and their families who they return to, safe at their place of work.
If the governor’s team won’t do it, then the Legislature should mandate it.
If Utah is going to continue to pride itself as a business-friendly state, we need action from our leaders that puts workers before politics. Our health and our economic engine go hand-in-hand. Businesses must not be faced with the decision to either shut down or send everyone out to be tested. Our state needs to get back to work but only if the safety and the wellbeing of workers comes first.
Utah state Sen. Karen Mayne is a lifelong resident of the west side of Salt Lake Valley. She has represented the communities of Taylorsville, Kearns and West Valley since taking office in 2008 and currently serves as Senate minority leader.