The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved a proposal to facilitate worker-led “health councils” to monitor business compliance with public health orders.
Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas co-authored a motion recommending that the county reach out to labor and business leaders and quickly agree on effective ways to monitor compliance with mandates to wear facial coverings, install protective shields and disinfect workplaces.
“We found workplace transmission has been a significant factor contributing to the spread of COVID-19 in communities all across our region,” Kuehl said, echoing comments made earlier in the day by Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s Secretary of Health and Human Services.
For instance, more than 300 people tested positive for COVID-19 at Los Angeles Apparel, a South Los Angeles garment manufacturer that pivoted to sewing masks when the pandemic struck. Workplace outbreaks at a meatpacking plant in Vernon and many local grocery stores have also heightened concerns about workplace safety.
Kuehl and Ridley-Thomas suggested that workers could be certified to monitor violations and report them to public health investigators for follow-up. While workers could serve as the county’s eyes and ears in a wide range of enterprises, they are likely to be reluctant to come forward without protection.
“Employees must be allowed to form public health councils without retaliation by their employer,” according to the motion.
For film and TV productions, the ruling may have less impact, since the June 1 white paper submitted to elected officials by the Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee Task Force already included a proposed “autonomous COVID-19 Compliance Officer” on every set.
“An autonomous COVID-19 Compliance Officer(s) with specialized training and responsibility and authority for COVID-19 safety compliance and enforcement will be in the workplace to address issues as they arise,” the document states. “COVID-19 safety plan oversight and enforcement shall be the principal responsibilities of the COVID-19 Compliance Officer(s), provided they may be assigned additional responsibilities related to workplace safety.”
Department of Public Health employees would likely welcome the help. According to officials, Public Health employees are already overwhelmed trying to enforce public health orders designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Two weeks ago, the board asked its lawyers to consider whether county workers who work for other departments could be assigned to assess fines against out-of-compliance businesses.
Hundreds of county workers in departments other than Public Health or Health Services have already been drafted to do work outside of their day-to-day jobs in the battle against COVID-19.
“We do not have enough staff on board,” Supervisor Hilda Solis said, before noting that the county will offer grants to small businesses to help pay for personal protective equipment.
The county will prioritize certifications for councils in the garment, hospitality, janitorial and food service industries, according to the motion.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger said many businesses were trying to do the right thing and investing heavily in necessary supplies and equipment, but those who were putting the health of their workers and customers at risk should be penalized.
“We need to … ensure that the bad actors are called out and, if need be, that they are shut down,” Barger said.
The county enforcement measure came on the same day that the state’s top health official, Dr. Ghaly, said Governor Gavin Newsom was preparing “a playbook to augment the guidelines that have already been put out.” He did not detail whether the augmentations would result in a tightening or loosening of current coronavirus restrictions.
Governor Newsom said at his Monday press conference that the state was adjusting some of the workplace closure guidelines it issued last week, specifically those around hair salons and barbershops and the “personal care services industry.”
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, for its part, confirmed 2,741 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday. Of those new cases, 57 percent occurred in people under the age of 41.
At the outset of the pandemic, and for some time thereafter, coronavirus was infecting far more people over the age 65 than those in the 18-42 year old bracket. No longer.
Of the cases confirmed Tuesday, 57 percent were people under 41 years old, continuing the trend of more younger people testing positive for the virus. Cases have generally been trending younger since the county began lifting health restrictions, allowing the reopening of restaurants and — at least temporarily — bars, which have since closed again.
Having said that, according to L.A. County Health Department Director Barbara Ferrer, “People over the age of 65 years old account for 11 percent of all cases but account for nearly 75 percent of all deaths.”
The county saw another 50 COVID-related deaths in the past 24 hours, for a total of 4,154 Angelenos killed by the virus. There are 2,218 confirmed cases currently hospitalized, 26 percent of these people are confirmed cases in the ICU and 18 percent are confirmed cases on ventilators. This is the third consecutive day of over 2,200 hospitalization.
To date, 161,673 positive cases of COVID-19 have been identified across all areas of L.A. County. Testing results are available for over 1,559,000 individuals with 9.6 percent of all people testing positive.
City News Service contributed to this report.