October 9, 2020 Edition
On Wednesday, the Senate Special Committee on Pandemic Emergency Response convened an oversight hearing on workplace health and safety issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. The hearing featured two panels with the first focused on state activities related to prevention, outbreaks, and enforcement activities from representatives of the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR), California Division of Occupational Health and Safety (Cal/OSHA), and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). The second panel featured perspectives from essential workers and employee labor unions.
In opening comments, Special Committee Chairwoman Senator Lena Gonzalez referenced workplace-related infections and tragedies related to COVID-19 throughout the state, as well as disproportionate health impacts from COVID-19 experienced by workers in meat packing, healthcare, grocery and agriculture, and garment making. The state panel highlighted the role of state agencies and departments in protecting workers, enforcing labor laws and regulations, inspecting workplaces, and providing guidance and support to employers. Representatives from California DIR and Cal/OSHA discussed technical assistance and education efforts among essential worker employers, strategic enforcement efforts, and partnership efforts with other state agencies and departments.
CDPH discussed the role of the department in responding to and providing support to local health departments to respond to workplace outbreaks, deployment of specialized disease investigation teams, availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) availability, efforts to make available employee testing, and issuance of guidance and checklists to employers statewide. State representatives additionally discussed planning efforts for implementation of AB 685 (Reyes) that was recently signed into law and will require employers to notify employees of potential COVID-19 exposures and notify local health departments of workplace outbreaks.
The second panel of the hearing featured perspectives of numerous essential workers who have experienced workplace health and safety concerns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Employee and employee representatives discussed workplace hazards experienced due to a lack of COVID-19 precautions, limited PPE availability, inadequate workplace protocols, and unclear exposure notification processes. Panelists highlighted disproportionate health, social, and economic impacts experienced by essential workers during the pandemic, namely among people of color and immigrants.
During committee member questions, Senators queried the state on topics including but not limited to workplace closures due to the lack of COVID-19 safety precautions, state staffing, state agency and department enforcement mechanisms, employer-employee relations, business operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic and seasonal influenza, and employer and employee workplace health and safety reporting processes.
The agenda from the hearing is available here. A background paper is available here. A video recording of the hearing is available here.
Today, Governor Gavin Newsom announced an additional $147 million in awards for Homekey, California’s $600 million program to purchase and rehabilitate housing, including hotels, motels, vacant apartment buildings, and other properties, and convert them into permanent, long-term housing for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. The most recent awards were provided to 12 applicants for 20 projects totaling 1,109 units. Among the awardees for the fourth round of awards are Fresno, Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, Marin, Nevada, Sonoma, San Bernardino, and Placer counties.
The Governor additionally announced a new partnership with Enterprise Community Partners, a nonprofit organization dedicated to affordable housing, to distribute $45 million in funding from Blue Shield of California and Kaiser Permanente to support operating subsidies for Homekey projects. This funding will provide support to local jurisdictions in ensuring that those housed through the program receive critical services including case management, job training, substance abuse housing, and more.
The full announcement from the Newsom Administration is available here.
This week, the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) unveiled The Promise of Good Health for All: Transforming Public Health in America which provides an action plan for the presidential administration and Congress taking office in 2021. The report highlights weaknesses exposed in the nation’s public health system during the COVID-19 pandemic, including ways in which structural racism puts communities of color at disproportionate risk of negative health outcomes.
TFAH outlines a series of actions available to policymakers taking office in the new year on how to strengthen the public health system, protect against health security threats, address the social determinants of health, and combat racism and other forms of discrimination that negatively affect community and individual health and resilience. The report focuses on five key priority areas:
- Priority 1: Make substantial and sustained investments in a more effective public health system including a highly-skilled public health workforce
- Priority 2: Mobilize an all-out effort to combat racism and other forms of discrimination and to advance health equity by providing conditions that optimize health
- Priority 3: Address social determinants of health, including economic, social, and environmental factors that result in preventable illness, injuries, and death
- Priority 4: Proactively address threats to the nation’s health security
- Priority 5: Improve health, safety, and well-being for all people by providing pathways to optimal health across the lifespan
TFAH provides proposed solutions in each of the five priority areas; among the solutions are:
- Creating a $4.5 billion per year Public Health Infrastructure Fund to support foundational public health capabilities at state, local, territorial, and tribal levels
- Building 21st century public health surveillance systems at federal, state, and local levels to enable rapid detection and response to disease threats
- Advancing health equity and eliminating health disparities through a senior-level, federal interdepartmental task force charged with adopting policies and programs in housing, employment, health, environmental justice, and education that reduce health inequities and address the social determinants of health
- Prioritizing increased funding for state, local, territorial, and tribal public health emergency preparedness and response programs
- Building surge capacity across the healthcare system and developing standards for healthcare facility readiness; policymakers should provide payment incentives and reward facilities that maintain specialized disaster care capabilities
- Promoting optimal health across the lifespan through access to health insurance, job-protected paid leave for workers, and significant investment in programs proven to support families and improve health
The TFAH report was endorsed by the American Public Health Association (APHA), the Asian & Pacific Islander Health Forum, the Big Cities Health Coalition, the Public Health Institute, and the National Network of Public Health Institutes. The full report is available here.
The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) recently issued the Framework for Equitable Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccine to provide an overarching framework for vaccine allocation to assist policymakers and stakeholders in the domestic and global health communities. The report recommends four allocation phases for the COVID-19 vaccine and outlines numerous considerations and factors for vaccine delivery according to risk. NASEM further notes that mitigating racial and ethnic inequities “by explicitly addressing the higher burden of COVID-19 experienced by these populations is a moral imperative of any equitable vaccine allocation framework.
The full NASEM report is available here.