Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont on Friday signed an executive order that state union leaders predict will provide hundreds, possibly thousands, of front-line workers “presumptive eligibility” for workers compensation benefits if they contracted the coronavirus while on the job during the early days of the pandemic.
The Democrat’s order came after weeks of demands by workers, union officials, and some state legislators who were concerned that workers deemed as essential and who get infected had no guarantee they’d qualify for compensation to cover lost wages and their medical care. Fewer than one-third of states have enacted such a policy, which shifts the burden of proof for coverage.
“Our state owes a debt to all of the health care professionals, grocery store clerks, and other essential workers who served vital roles during the earliest and darkest stages of this public health crisis,” Lamont said in a written statement, also voicing thanks to those employees who have “done the right thing by their employees.”
He noted the state’s Workers’ Compensation Commission has continued to operate during the pandemic.
Lamont said last week that he would sign such an order. The promise came the same day that a news conference was held at the state Capitol, where state lawmakers and essential workers called for the language.
Nurse Dori Harrington of Manchester recently told The Associated Press about how she became infected with COVID-19 while caring for infected patients at a nursing home, with limited protective gear. She was severely ill and missed five weeks of work, but her workers’ comp claim was initially denied on the grounds that her disease was “not distinctively associated with, nor peculiar” to her job.
She eventually won her claim with help from her union.
“Nobody should have to fight to be taken care of when they were simply doing their job taking care of other people,” Harrington said. “It’s obnoxious to me.”
Lamont’s order would apply to people who missed a day or more of work between March 10 and May 20 due to a diagnosis of COVID-19, or due to symptoms that were diagnosed as COVID-19, contracted while at work. Beginning Aug. 1, the Workers’ Compensation Commission must report to the governor and state legislators on the number of COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 claims filed and provide information about the percentage that are litigated, the number of appeals and other data.
Sal Luciano, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, said the order “finally shows some appreciation for the exceptionally challenging jobs” that Connecticut’s essential workers were forced to do while risking their exposure to the coronavirus while Lamont’s stay-at-home order was in place.
“We look forward to continuing to work further on this issue in a future special session to make sure that every essential worker receives the workers’ compensation benefits they have earned without having to go through a protracted appeals process,” Luciano said in a written statement.
In other coronavirus news:
The Department of Economic and Community Development announced some changes to how various businesses can operate during the pandemic, including giving nonessential businesses the right to refuse service to anyone not wearing a face mask.
Meanwhile, indoor performances at restaurants will now be allowed, with the exception of musical vocalists. Servers will no longer be required to wear gloves. At hotels, nonessential services and amenities, such as valets and ice machines, are now permitted.
Also Friday, the state received approximately 12,000 test results conducted from May 23 to July 20 from an out-of-state lab, 440 of which were positive for COVID-19. That represents a nearly .8% positive rate. To date, there have been 48,776 positive cases in the state, an increase of 544 since Thursday, a figure that includes the 440.
There have also been 4,413 COVID-associated deaths, an increase of three since Thursday. Hospitalizations declined by one patient, to 71.
BACK TO SCHOOL
Friday was the deadline for school districts across Connecticut to release their plans for reopening schools in the new school year.
In New Haven, education officials are planning a “hybrid model” for the fall. Students will alternate between in-class and distance learning, with students in pre-K through third grade spending more time in the classroom than older students.
New Haven Superintendent of Schools Iline Tracey told the governor, during a discussion on Friday with students and educators about distance learning, there’s still a lot of concern about returning to school among her parents and teachers, who she described as “petrified” about the prospect sending their kids back. New Haven had some high spikes of infections and deaths during the earlier days of the pandemic.
“When my parents and teachers look me in the face and say, ’How can you bring us back? What will you say if one of us dies on your watch? Those are things we need to think about,” Tracey told Lamont. “I want my kids back in school, but I want it to be safe for them.”
Lamont noted that during the height of the pandemic, doctors and nurses in Connecticut had lower infection rates than the general public because they wore masks and had access to PPE. He noted the state was also able to keep daycare centers open safely, using various protections, and eventually partially reopen restaurants.
“I think it’s going to be the same thing with the teachers,” he said. “We’ve got to do everything we can to convince them.”