Governor Hochul Designates COVID-19 as An Airborne Infectious Disease Under New York State Hero Act
On September 6, 2021, New York State Governor Kathy Hochul announced that the New York State Department of Health (DOH) designated COVID-19 as a highly contagious communicable disease that presents a serious risk of harm to public health under the New York State Health and Essential Rights Act (HERO Act). Under the HERO Act, New York State employers must now take the following steps to ensure compliance with the HERO Act: review their airborne infectious disease prevention plans (the Plan); implement the protective measures set forth in the Plan, and provide employees with verbal and written notice of the Plan.
Pursuant to the HERO Act, now that a highly contagious communicable disease has been designated by the DOH, each New York state employer must do the following:
- Review and update their Plan, if necessary, to ensure that it incorporates current information, guidance, and mandatory state requirements.
- Assign a supervisory employee with enforcement responsibilities to monitor the measures set forth in the Plan.
- Provide employees with a verbal review of the Plan, other workplace safety policies, and their under the HERO Act, including the right to report violations of the Plan without retaliation or refuse to work if the employee would face an unreasonable risk of exposure.
- Provide employees with a written copy of the Plan in the workers’ language.
Throughout the designation of an airborne infectious disease outbreak, employers must also take steps to mitigate the threat of transmission of the airborne disease, including implementing the following:
- Health Screenings and Exclusion of Symptomatic Employees: Employers must perform daily health screenings at the beginning of the workday and exclude symptomatic individuals from the workplace.
- Face Coverings: Employers must provide employees with masks at no cost and require that employees wear masks when physical distancing cannot be maintained and in accordance with applicable guidance from the DOH and CDC. Under CDC guidance, all individuals must wear masks when working in public indoor settings that are in areas with substantial or high rates of COVID-19 transmission.
- Physical Distancing: Employees should be 6 feet apart when possible.
- Hand Hygiene Facilities: Appropriate handwashing facilities must be available to employees.
- Cleaning and Disinfection: Enhanced cleaning and disinfecting protocols must be followed, including daily disinfecting of bathrooms and breakrooms.
Employers that did not previously adopt and distribute a safety plan should do so now. A sample plan can be found here: https://dol.ny.gov/system/files/documents/2021/07/model-airborne-infectious-disease-exposure-prevention-plan-p765.pdf
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