A recent analysis concerning federal and state data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has revealed more than 780 complaints related to COVID-19. The reports reveal that many schools are ignoring safety protocols to prevent COVID-19 from spreading. These complaints cover around 2,000 K-12 schools — both public and private.
Kaiser Health News, a news non-profit that covers health topics, made the analysis. However, their analysis might not be enough to cover the whole picture as a loophole prevents employees from filing complaints in 24 states which do not have their own OSHA agencies nor do they have programs for local and state employees that are approved by the federal government.
Many school districts in states across the country have started holding in-person classes. Unfortunately, many of them ignore safety recommendations from public health officials.
In connection to this, concerned employees from these schools reported COVID-19 related complaints. These include instances of sick children still attending classes. It also included instances of students not wearing masks or of people standing less than 6 feet apart. Some also report school administrators who are seemingly minimizing how dangerous COVID-19 is and punishing employees who decide to speak out about it.
COVID-19 Response in Schools “Has Been Politicized”
Regarding this, Dr. Chandy John, a pediatric infectious diseases expert from Indiana University’s School of Medicine, said that COVID-19 response in the U.S. “has been politicized.”
“There’s a willingness to ignore data and facts and go with whatever you’re hearing from the internet or from political leaders who don’t have any scientific knowledge,” John added.
With this, President Joe Biden has proposed $130 billion that aims to help improve COVID-19-related school safety. This comes as part of his overall response to the pandemic. He also proposes to offer guidance in keeping schools safe and in improving workplace protections for school employees.
However, even with the new safety protocols under Biden’s proposal, a separate issue of balancing safety and the need for education will prevail. After all, the nationwide vaccine rollout still needs months before it can reach school employees. Additionally, the vaccine available now is not yet approved for kids.
The Need for Legislation
The scope of COVID-19 cases in schools is still unclear. While the president has called for federal-level tracking, this was not happening. Uniform data collection among states has not been done either.
Many health officials have said that people can help reduce COVID-19 risks. They just need to follow simple safety practices, such as wearing a mask.
However, many employees in schools across the country say the mask mandate either doesn’t exist or is being enforced poorly. Additionally, while OSHA has received hundreds of COVID-19 complaints, many of these did not lead to any inspection or fine.
With this, one of Biden’s executive orders focused on worker safety urges OSHA to increase the enforcement of protocols. It also calls for the OSHA to collaborate with states and local governments in ensuring the safety of workers from COVID-19.
Rebecca Reindel, who serves as AFL-CIO’s director of occupational safety and health, echoes these sentiments. She says, without legislation “workers are facing big challenges: Do I speak up? Do I show up to work? They’re making a decision between needing a paycheck and risking bringing the virus home.”