2020-07-07-Rhodes-Conway-07272020135130 (copy)

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway during a press conference. Local elected officials and the public health director discussed a requirement for everyone 5 and older to wear face coverings when in public and private buildings in Dane County. The press conference was held Tuesday, July, 7, 2020, at Exhibition Hall at the Alliant Energy Center. STEVE APPS, STATE JOURNAL

These are challenging times for our city and our state. The pandemic and the economic crisis it caused are making life hard for too many families. Working families have been especially hard hit, and the city is working hard to protect and support them.

While cases are rapidly rising in many counties of the state, fortunately here in Dane County we are having success in bending the curve in the right direction and cases are on the decline.

Since our first case on Feb. 5, Public Health Madison and Dane County (PHMDC) has been a leader in the fight against COVID-19. It was the first local health department to issue a mandatory order limiting the size of crowds. Moments after the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Gov. Evers' “Stay at Home” order, we issued another local order to make sure that any reopening of the economy was orderly and data driven. And in July, PHMDC led the state once again in issuing the state’s first mandatory masking order, a policy now popular with over 80% of the American public.

Behind the scenes at the city, each department examined best practices from the United States and around the world and pushed to get them in place to protect the public and essential city workers. For instance, we canceled bus fares and asked Metro passengers to use the back door to protect our bus drivers at a time when PPE was in desperately short supply. Later we were able to secure KN-95 masks and retrofit the buses with plexiglass shields, and this essential service never paused thanks to our dedicated Teamster drivers.

But the challenges did not stop and neither did we. The robust testing facility PHMDC is running at the Alliant Energy Center, with support of County Executive Joe Parisi, Gov. Tony Evers and the National Guard, is free to all workers, allowing us to track the disease and make adjustments to our health care policies, rather than just flying blind. We are at 100,000 tests and counting.

Now, as major employers contemplate bringing back their employees this fall, it is a good time to review the worker protections and employer obligations baked into to our strong public health orders — orders made stronger by labor reps who hit the streets checking on private-sector workers, union and nonunion, and calling my office to point out categories of essential workers lacking sufficient protection and support from their employers.

“Too many workers lack the support of their employers. Employers need to understand what their obligations are toward employees, and workers need to feel safe to file a complaint with the public health department if those obligations are not being met,” said Kevin Gundlach, of the South Central Federation of Labor.

Our public health orders require all businesses, to the greatest extent possible, to facilitate remote work and other measures that limit the number of individuals present at an office, facility or store.

For work that can’t be done remotely, businesses must innovate to accommodate social distancing and masking. When social distancing is not possible, additional safeguards — such as plastic shields — or accommodations, like a different job duty that allows one to work alone, are highly encouraged.

The order makes clear that it is the employer's job to supply all workers with appropriate and necessary PPE, not the other way around — no matter what your boss may say.

Public health also requires workplaces:

• To have a written and implemented hygiene policy that includes measures ensuring employees who have a fever or other symptoms not be allowed to work.

• To have a written and implemented cleaning policy that includes disinfecting frequently touched surfaces.

• To have implemented protective measures that ensure employees wear masks, and physical distance whenever possible.

• To post signs cuing all in the workplace to wear masks and remind all of the workplace requirements for employers and workers.

When we receive complaints, Public Health works to educate employers and has had generally had good success, but if you are concerned, you can email the Public Health department at compliance@publichealthmdc.com.

We take worker safety very seriously at the City of Madison, and are working hard to keep all workers safe from COVID-19. Please do your part by washing your hands, keeping that 6-foot distance whenever possible, and remember to #MaskUpMadison!

Satya Rhodes-Conway is the mayor of Madison. Learn more about Public Health guidance at: https://publichealthmdc.com/coronavirus/forward-dane/requirements.

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