U.S. Issues First Coronavirus Workplace Guidance to Nursing Homes

By Tom Hals | May 15, 2020

The U.S. Department of Labor issued its first workplace guidance to nursing homes on Thursday since the COVID-19 pandemic swept the country and ravaged care facilities, saying residents, staff and visitors should keep 6 feet (1.83 meters) apart.

The alert from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also said nursing homes should screen resident and staff for symptoms and should find alternatives to group activities.

OSHA, which is charged with setting and policing national working conditions, did not recommend testing of residents or workers by nursing homes, which have been hit by the coronavirus since February.

The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

President Donald Trump said this week that nursing home residents should have access to testing if there was testing capacity. AARP, a group that represents seniors, had urged Congress to ensure access to testing for nursing home staff and residents.

Nursing homes account for a large portion of the 83,000 U.S. deaths from COVID-19, the lung disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Elderly individuals and people with underlying chronic health conditions are among those at highest risk for severe illness and death.

Unions have criticized OSHA for not doing enough to protect workers, who have protested conditions at food-processing plants, warehouses and fast-food restaurants.

Worker advocates have pushed Congress to direct OSHA to issue emergency temporary standards that all businesses must follow.

Businesses have complained they must navigate a complex mix of state and local standards as well as guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and have asked Congress to provide a shield against legal liability.

OSHA also recommended on Thursday that taxi drivers wear masks and drive with lowered windows and pharmacies should encourage online ordering.

Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia has defended his department and said it is investigating workplace safety complaints but that flexible guidance is a better for businesses than rigid standards.

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