As the state starts to ease some of its COVID-19 restrictions, doctors are warning that the virus and the new variants are still a threat across New York.
Lawmakers and advocates on Thursday held a virtual rally pushing for the NY HERO Act, which would require businesses have enforceable standards to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“We know for a fact there were more deaths than there should have been in the spring of last year,” Senate Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris said. “Because too many employers were not being scrupulous about protecting their workers and having standards in place.”
This legislation would set specific protocols businesses would have to follow when it comes to providing personal protective equipment, social distancing and guaranteeing break times to employees for hand washing.
It would also require businesses cover employee health screenings and establish a safety committee.
The bill is backed by more than 100 labor, community and safety organizations.
Dr. Kaushal Khambhati he believes these protocols could have saved lives if they were enforced at the beginning of the pandemic.
“It was harrowing to watch the literal backbone of our society succumb to COVID,” said Dr. Dr. Khambhati, an emergency medicine resident at Jacobi Medical Center. “In addition, it's pushed healthcare workers, like myself, to our limits, but it didn't always have to be this way. If we had the protections of the NY HERO Act, we could have saved lives.”
However, there are numerous business owners and lawmakers who are concerned about the added financial burden this will place on small businesses already struggling to survive.
The bill does not provide any additional funding to go along with these new mandates and it also allows employees to sue employers for noncompliance.
“We love to pass legislation. We give it great names, and it’s intended to do great things,” Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay said. “But somehow, time and time again, we don't fund whatever the mandate is from the legislation.”
The bill passed the Senate already, but is still in committee in the Assembly.