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Workers Need Federal Protection From COVID-19 Risks

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to kill more than 1,000 Americans each day, some state governments are moving to allow employers to force employees in certain industries back into the workplace.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster allowed certain retail shops to reopen, and permitted residents to visit public beaches.[1] Businesses in Alabama, Tennessee and Ohio — where a state prison recently became the largest source of coronavirus infections in the country — are slated to reopen on May 1.[2]

In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp gave many businesses the green light to reopen, including hair salons and tattoo parlors.[3] Kemp urged employers to comply with social distancing orders, but failed to explain how compliance could be possible under the circumstances. Employees in such workplaces cannot perform their jobs, of course, without physically touching customers.

Some states are clearly eager to reopen nonessential workplaces, but appear less enthusiastic about installing safeguards to protect the people working in them. For example, Georgia’s State Board of Cosmetology and Barbers of fered optional guidance, but placed the onus for containing the virus squarely on the shoulders of employees, requiring that workersmust wear masks at all times, while employers “may want to consider providing masks to clients.”[4] Meanwhile, customers “should wear face masks to the extent possible while receiving services.”

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