ALBANY, NY (04/07/2020) (readMedia)-- The New York State Public Employees Federation (PEF) sent a strong letter to the New York State Department of Health (DOH) opposing the return of suspected and confirmed COVID-19 employees to the workplace in the event of staff shortages.
"We are vehemently opposed to permitting confirmed or suspected COVID-19 employees to return to work until they have completely recovered or are confirmed negative," PEF President Wayne Spence said. "Especially without vigorous control measures desperately needed to protect those who care for some of the most vulnerable people in New York."
The DOH recently released new guidance documents for employees returning to work from quarantine or isolation, specifically targeting health care practitioners (HCP), law enforcement and those deemed essential workers.
PEF reviewed the new guidance and has numerous concerns with the plan.
The return to work plans intentionally bring COVID-19 suspected, COVID-19 confirmed but asymptomatic and COVID-19 confirmed and symptomatic back into the workplace, with few controls to protect the workforce or the public at large.
"The expanding shortage of health care workers and frontline workers should not cause the state to rush the return of COVID-19 positive employees to work," Spence said. "That approach can only backfire as more people will be exposed, causing more illness in the workforce, which will make the shortages only get worse."
In its letter, PEF outlines the dangers of ending quarantine and isolation early; how sending infected workers back to work would increase the need for already critically low personal protective equipment; and how the plan seemingly flies in the face of the importance of quarantine and social distancing.
"New York state should not knowingly send its infected employees onto public transportation while at the same time encouraging citizens and the sick to stay home," Spence said. "The anxiety of an already fearful workforce will greatly increase due to people being afraid of who they are working with."
PEF strongly opposes the new guidance.
"Under these new and extremely problematic guidelines more people in the workplace will be exposed and potentially infected," Spence said. "This is unacceptable to PEF when there are clearly better ways to address staffing issues. New York state cannot afford to put so many people's lives at risk when so much is at stake."
PEF has sent similar letters to other state agencies, outlining concerns about member health and safety at the worksite. The union has also collaborated with hotels around major health care centers, such as Stony Brook University Hospital and SUNY Downstate Medical Center, giving members who fear bringing the virus to their homes and families a place to stay.
A copy of the letter can be found here: https://www.pef.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/LettertoDOH-ReturnToWorkGuidelines.pdf