California and Oregon were lauded for their early response to the pandemic, with swift and broad shutdowns aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus. In reopening their economies, both states imposed stringent requirements for masks and face coverings.
But eight months into the public health crisis, the neighboring states have made starkly different choices on tracking and reporting workplace outbreaks — decisions that shape how much the public knows about the spread of coronavirus as hotspots appear at meat-packing plants, stadium construction sites, warehouses and other essential worksites.
Since May, Oregon has used a centralized tracking system, which has enabled health officials there to release weekly reports that list the names and addresses of every known business with at least 30 employees where five or more positive COVID-19 cases are identified. For outbreaks of more than 20, the state issues special daily reports.
California, in contrast, doesn’t post workplace outbreaks. The state lets its 58 counties handle coronavirus data, with wide variety in how each county tracks and reports workplace outbreaks.
The distinction has workers and public health experts worried.
“It’s fundamental data that should be readily available,” said Dr. Melissa Perry, epidemiologist and chair of the Environmental and Occupational Health department at George Washington University.
Throughout the pandemic, the Golden State has advised, but did not mandate, that employers notify workers of positive cases among employees. This means millions of workers in the fifth-largest economy in the world receive less information than they could about whether it’s safe to go to work. It also means low-wage essential workers carry greater risks: A joint investigation by CalMatters and The Salinas Californian for the California Divide revealed hundreds of unreported outbreaks among guest farmworkers throughout California this summer.
While business groups say it’s not productive to publicly shame companies, public health experts say posting workplace outbreaks would be helpful in controlling the virus, as pandemic-fatigued residents seek to return to school and work. More than 18,000 Californians have died from the virus with Latino and Black people infected at a significantly higher rate than white and Asian people. Such information, experts say, may improve scientific tracking and enable targeted responses amid a third wave of outbreaks.
What Oregonians know but Californians don’t
Like most states, California isn’t taking the extra step to post workplace outbreaks. Only a few states, including Oregon, Arkansas, New Mexico and Colorado, do disclose where workers have contracted the virus. Iowa will disclose outbreaks if 10% of a business’ employees test positive.
In Oregon, health officials made an early pivot with public support.
State health officials came under heavy criticism last spring in choosing not to disclose two outbreaks at Townsend Farms, a Portland-based fruit company. On May 28, the department made an administrative decision to track outbreaks statewide using lab results and data from healthcare providers. Oregon posts reports that include workplace outbreaks along with those in schools, child care facilities and senior living and care facilities.
“There was a demand for transparency,” said Oregon Health Authority director Patrick Allen. “We …read more
Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment