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Frontline Workers’ Lives Endangered by COVID-19

We’re going into month four now in the COVID-19 pandemic, with more Americans testing positive and more deaths every day. COVID-19 is a highly contagious coronavirus with common symptoms of fever, body aches, dry cough, fatigue, chills, headache, sore throat, loss of appetite, and loss of smell. In some people, it can cause more serious symptoms, like high fever, and shortness of breath (often indicating pneumonia). (Health.Harvard.edu)

As of today, the United States has had over 1.41 million confirmed cases, and over 83,000 deaths related to COVID-19. Here in South Carolina, there have been over 7,900 confirmed cases, and over 355 related deaths.

We all want to protect ourselves and our families the best we can, and try to stay safe from this virus; however, healthcare workers are right in the midst of it all, and are risking their own lives caring for the sick. Frontline workers can only be as safe as the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and protocol they are provided with.

Many nurses, doctors and EMT’s are being put in harm’s way and in many instances are being “forced to make terrifying compromises.” (TheDailyBeast.com) Because hospitals are overwhelmed, some workers lack proper PPE. Any shortage of PPE is a “clear and present danger”, the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN) says. (NPR.org)

Then there are some frontline workers who “suffer from underlying health conditions that make them vulnerable to the highly infectious virus.” (KHN.org)

Either of these issues can cause workers coming into contact with COVID-19 patients to contract the virus and become very sick; some do not survive.

To date, very-limited information is available about how many frontline healthcare personnel (HCP) have been infected or have died from contracting COVID-19. “In some states, medical staff account for as many as 20% of known coronavirus cases. But no national database exists to track their deaths.” (TheGuardian.com) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 27 deaths among health workers as of April 14th, with 9,200 health workers reporting a positive test for the coronavirus. “The CDC researchers acknowledge the figures are almost certainly a substantial undercount because most of the people tested in the overall set (84%) didn’t say whether they’re a health care worker or not.”

55% of the 9,200 frontline workers who reported contracting COVID-19 think they were exposed at work.

In South Carolina, it was reported on April 15th that 118 Prisma Health (a hospital system in the Midlands and Upstate that employs 30,000 people) employees had tested positive for COVID-19. A spokesperson for Prisma Health said 54% of those were work-related cases. (Greenvilleonline.com)

In an April 1st letter to Governor Henry McMaster, the President of the South Carolina Nurses Association (which represents more than 44,000 registered nurses in South Carolina) expressed concerns that SC nurses had been reporting extremely challenging working conditions such as “inappropriate PPE, reuse of PPE, inadequate staffing, and rapidly changing protocols.” Also, some nurses had complained that they were unable to be tested for COVID-19. She asked the governor to see to it that nurses be provided with proper PPE, adequate staffing, and testing, so they could be sure they were not exposing others (patients and/or their families) to the virus. “If we do not protect our workforce, who will?” (IslandPacket.com)

The South Carolina Workers’ Compensation law as it is now, does not address pandemic exposure to first responders. S.C. Code § 42-11-10(B) states as follows: “No disease shall be deemed an occupational disease… when it is a contagious disease resulting from exposure to fellow employees from a hazard to which the workman would have been equally exposed outside his employment, {or} is one of the ordinary diseases of life to which the general public is equally exposed, unless such disease follows as a complication a natural incident of an occupational disease or unless there is continuous exposure peculiar to the occupation itself which makes such disease a hazard inherent in such occupation.”

Help may be on the way. Representative Russell Fry is pushing for legislation to make workers compensation available to coronavirus frontline workers who contract the virus. Rep. Fry says the law as it is now would require a worker to prove that he/she contracted COVID-19 at work, which would be tough to do. “If they are to get coronavirus, it is likely because they were on the front lines doing their job. Other states are doing this through executive order or through administrative actions, and we’re hoping to do the same in South Carolina,” said Rep. Fry. (WBTW.com)

For now, S.C. Code § 42-11-10 states: “Testing and treatment of an employee exposed to a contagious disease is a question of law that requires a fact-specific legal analysis and ultimately can only be decided by a Commissioner at a Hearing. Nothing prevents an employee from filing a workers’ compensation claim if they believe they contracted a disease that is work-related. If the claim is denied by the employer, the employee has the right to request a hearing before a Commissioner. At the hearing, the Commissioner will hear the facts presented and render a decision after applying the facts of the case to the law.” (Fox28media.com)

THE LAW OFFICES OF DAVID L. HOOD – REPRESENTING INJURED WORKERS IN SOUTH CAROLINA

The Law Offices of David L. Hood and co-counsel have been fighting for the rights of injured workers in Charleston, N. Charleston, Mt. Pleasant, Georgetown, Murrells Inlet, Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach, Columbia, Greenville, Hilton Head, Rock Hill and all across South Carolina for over 25 years. We have a dedicated team that will strive to take care of your claim professionally and treat you with respect. Over the years we and our co-counsel have represented hundreds of injured workers and their families, working hard to get them the medical treatment and compensation they deserve.

To learn more about what we can do for you, contact our offices to set up a free initial consultation. If you choose to work with us, we will handle your case on a contingent fee basis, which means you pay nothing unless we make a recovery for you. To get in touch with us, you can call our offices at (843) 491-6025 or email us here.

 

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