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Virginia rolls out list of emergency COVID-19 standards to keep workers safe

Posted at 3:06 PM, Jul 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-18 19:03:24-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board passed emergency temporary standards for Virginia's workplaces aimed to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The standards set forth enforceable, common-sense requirements that employers must follow to protect their workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Newly adopted standards require:

⦁ All employers to mandate social distancing measures and face coverings for employees in customer-facing positions and when social distancing is not possible.

⦁ All employers to provide frequent access to hand washing or hand sanitizer, and regularly clean high-contact surfaces.

Additionally, the new standards require all employees be notified within 24 hours if a coworker tests positive for the virus.

And if an employee is known or suspected to be positive for COVID-19, they cannot return to work for 10 days or until they receive two consecutive negative tests.

The new temporary standards come after a directive from Governor Ralph Northam's Executive Order 63 that directed the Department of Labor and Industry to "promulgate emergency regulations and standards to control, prevent, and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace."

With passing of the standards, Virginia became the first state in the nation to enact coronavirus-era safety emergency standards that companies are required to implement to protect workers and mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“Workers should not have to sacrifice their health and safety to earn a living, especially during an ongoing global pandemic,” said Governor Northam. “In the face of federal inaction, Virginia has stepped up to protect workers from COVID-19, creating the nation’s first enforceable workplace safety requirements. Keeping Virginians safe at work is not only a critical part of stopping the spread of this virus, it’s key to our economic recovery and it’s the right thing to do.”

“This historic victory will ensure that workers’ health is protected and that businesses are part of the solution to curbing the spread of the virus," said Jason Yarashes, Lead Attorney and Program Coordinator at the Legal Aid Justice Center. "We commend Governor Northam, the Virginia Department of Labor and Industries, and the Board for being leaders on the right side of history in passing this emergency standard.”

Courtney Malveaux serves on the Safety and Helath codes board. He said the Virginia Occupational Safety and Health Agency will have to work with employers and enforce the rules.

They have not been issuing citations as far as we know, unless the agency actually works with the employment community and starts to enforce existing regulations, it may not have any effect at all," Malveaux said.

Businesses like Perch RVA and Proper Pie Co. have closed due to positive cases reported by employees. Richmond bartender, Chelsea Brewer said she has first hand seen the effects covid has had on the food industry in Richmond.

“When this first hit, when we first closed, the restaurant that I work in, it was pretty scary," Brewer said. "We really need to focus on coming together by social distancing.”

The standards will be in place for six months unless replaced by a permanent standard or repealed. The Board approved an amendment that states the standards could also cease if Governor Northam rescinds his State of Emergency declaration.

The Board also approved a section that stated if an employer is following Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines that are equal to or greater than the proposed standards (and the employer can document this), then they will be considered in compliance with the standards.

The standards would apply to all employees, employers, and places of employment that fall under the jurisdiction of the Virginia Occupational Health and Safety Administration.