Utah Businesses Forced Employees Sick With COVID-19 To Work But Let’s Not Identify Them Or Anything

coronavirus

Utah County executives released a statement this week confirming that almost half the employees — 48 percent — at an area business tested positive for the coronavirus. This wasn't bad luck but deliberate malice. The business “instructed employees to not follow quarantine guidelines and required staff who had tested positive to report to work." You might recall the halcyon days of three months ago when we believed paid sick leave was sufficient means to control the spread of COVID-19. We were so sick a nation that as a matter of course, workers often showed up at the job barely alive. That was considered the Yankee work ethic. In truth, it's capitalistic exploitation, and some companies apparently can't quit slave-driving even during a pandemic.

From the Daily Herald:

"During the tracing contacts conducted by the Utah County Health Department and Utah Department of Health, we found these businesses instructed employees to not follow quarantine guidelines after exposure to a confirmed case at work and required employees with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis to still report to work," the statement said. "This is completely unacceptable and resulted in a temporary full closure for one business along with heightened requirements for future cleaning and inspections."

Another business in Utah County was equally shady and "did not follow COVID-19 best practices." They are responsible for 68 positive coronavirus cases among their employees. According to Ralph Clegg, executive director of the Utah County Health Department, the health department hasn't shut down either business, because freedom and tyranny or something we guess.

CLEGG: Both businesses are currently operating. One business, because of the nature of the business, needed to shut down and close (temporarily). But even the other business, I think, has done what we asked them to do as far as cleaning up and sanitizing.

Why should we trust these businesses to do the right thing when they willingly violated guidelines and demanded that sick employees come to work and drip coronavirus all over whatever it is they do at the businesses Utah County executives refuse to name?


CLEGG: We weigh those things very — the people's right to know and privacy of individuals. In this case, the businesses were not businesses where people would be walking in and out and getting services, and so there's no reason to make it open to the public. Because we don't have to do contact tracing in that way, because we're able to get the contacts from the people who have had the exposures at the businesses.

Give us a break! The county executives aren't worried about people not inviting former COVID-19 sufferers to parties once we're all allowed to have parties. They're protecting the businesses.

Two Utah County businesses accused of not following Covid-19 guidelines; 68 people test positive www.youtube.com

Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist of the Utah Department of Health, said at a press conference Wednesday that because neither of the businesses have direct interaction with the public, the risk to the general public is "very, very low." That's a strange comment. Presumably the employees who got sick have family members who are among the general public, and grocery shop among the general public, and do all the things the general public does.

The offending companies are also walking away without any fines or penalties, just a Susan Collins-trademarked “very disappointed" slap on the wrist.

DUNN: Utah County did not have any orders in place when these outbreaks occurred, and so I'm unaware of any regulations or kind of enforcement that's going to be going on with these organizations.

Huh? Utah Gov. Gary Herbert issued a “Stay Home, Stay Safe" directive on March 27. Businesses were required to let employees stay home if they exhibited symptoms consistent with COVID-19. Employees didn't even need to produce a doctor's note or a positive test. This wasn't a mandatory order, as Utah Democrats urged, but it was fairly clear.

Utah County itself is a bit of a mess. Three of its cities — Payson, Orem and Provo — are now COVID-19 hotspots. The Orem outbreak was traced to a birthday party that dozens of people attended, and the Payson spike resulted from an "employer demanding a sick employee work while sick." C'mon, even Scrooge gave sick days.

Businesses who care more about their bottom lines than public safety shouldn't remain anonymous. Their leadership should at least have to appear in one of those “I fucked up big" PSAs that celebrities film as part of their plea deals.

The timing of the announcement from Utah County executives is interesting. Gov. Herbert signed legislation Monday protecting businesses from accountability if an individual contracts coronavirus on their property. Business are liable if they demonstrate "willful misconduct; reckless infliction of harm; or intentional infliction of harm." We emphasized “willful" and “intentional" so you appreciate how difficult a successful complaint will likely prove. As businesses attempt to reopen during the pandemic, Republicans like Herbert and Mitch McConnell are going to make sure that customers and employees shoulder all the risk.

[Daily Herald / The Hill]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).

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