LAST YEAR IT CAME FROM the state Department of Health—a six-page document titled “NY Forward Safety Plan Template.” In bold letters on the fourth line of the first paragraph it says; “This plan does not need to be submitted to a state agency for approval….”
That was May 2020. The pandemic was getting worse. The instructions said all businesses had to have a plan, and while the state didn’t want to see these plans, the state included some questions about workplace safety that businesses might want to consider. Gee, thanks.
This one-size-fits-all approach included a question on how we would manage our lunch breaks. Small businesses had to wonder whether this was busywork to keep our minds off the disease. We had a food truck parked next door to our office.
Last week the latest plan demand arrived from Albany. This year it’s called the “NY Hero Act” and it comes from the state Department of Labor. The subhead reads: “Model Airborne Infectious Disease Exposure Prevention Plan.” It’s called a “model” because it can take effect only if the state commissioner of health (not labor) designates that there is an outbreak of an airborne infectious disease that “presents a serious risk of harm to the public health.”
The introduction page of this year’s Hero Act message lists all the kinds of employees, part-timers and contractors whose working conditions would be affected by this year’s plan if a disease designation is declared. And who are the workers not covered by these Hero plans? State employees.
Once again we are being told to make a plan but not to put it into action because “no designation is in effect at this time.” Is that good news or wishful thinking?
Let’s call it hopeful.
Why? Start with the observation that the Hero Act advisory has more detailed information about the steps employers and workers must take to recognize outbreaks of Covid-19 and to respond effectively. This planning document also acknowledges there are other nasty bugs lurking out there that can sicken millions of humans and they won’t necessarily wait until we get Covid-19 under control.
The 2021 form for businesses also asks us to list what supplies are on hand to limit an outbreak of an airborne infectious disease like Covid-19 and who’s got the key to the room where the supplies are stored. There’s a limited amount of loopy bureaucrat-speak and a lot more pointers that will help real people in real workplaces.
It seems like the health and labor departments of New York State concluded that the public could use some clearer guidelines for businesses and organizations to operate during a pandemic. But that success only underscores the obligation government has to continue a constant program of reviewing and updating these advisories.
This rapid growth of knowledge about the Coronavirus may even give us clues as to why so many otherwise clearheaded people put their lives and the lives of others at risk by refusing to get vaccinated. There’s too much information to grasp: the speed at which the virus spreads; the extent of its variations; the misinformation and lies about its origins, the amazing safety record of vaccines; how lethal it can be for everyone who doesn’t get the shots; and how different it is just to go about your business these days. It leads some to blame the vaccine for the virus. But that’s distorted thinking and no amount of planning will correct it.
This state’s outreach to the business community is a positive step and one that deserves more support. But it will take a more unified and widespread approach to end this pandemic. The best tools we have are vaccination mandates. The sooner we get them in place the better.