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More protections needed for COVID-vulnerable workers | READER COMMENTARY

Patrick Okafor places a placard in his car last year as he joins fellow Maryland state employees in the AFSCME union who held a car caravan in Baltimore seeking better access to protective gear and enhanced pay as COVID-19 frontline workers. May 19, 2020. (Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore Sun).
Patrick Okafor places a placard in his car last year as he joins fellow Maryland state employees in the AFSCME union who held a car caravan in Baltimore seeking better access to protective gear and enhanced pay as COVID-19 frontline workers. May 19, 2020. (Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore Sun). (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

While national and local COVID-19 rates are on the rise again, Gov. Larry Hogan has not been clear about what emergency provisions are still in place to protect Marylanders (”COVID cases are rising across the country. Here’s what’s happening in Maryland,” July 19). Governor Hogan’s flat-footedness in responding to the COVID-19 crisis is par for the course. For more than a year now, the Hogan administration has repeatedly failed to implement adequate worker safety standards to protect our most vulnerable essential workers.

Structural barriers prevent some of our most essential workers from receiving the life-saving vaccinations they need. The Eastern Shore is home to both our state’s agricultural industry and our state’s highest COVID-19 positivity rate. The connection is clear and substantiated by national evidence that food and farmworkers across the country are being vaccinated at lower rates than higher-income workers in other sectors.

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Barriers such as the lack of paid sick leave, the inability to appropriately socially distance in employer-provided housing, and the failure to provide and enforce adequate personal protective equipment and distancing in the workplace contribute to this crisis. That’s why the Maryland legislature passed The Maryland Essential Workers Protection Act this year, directing Maryland Occupational Safety and Health (MOSH), the office within the Maryland Department of Labor that oversees worker standards, to write emergency rules that safeguard food and farm workers from current and future disease emergencies.

Despite the ongoing need for MOSH worker protection rules, Gov. Hogan’s lifting of the state of emergency this month negated the administration’s requirement to implement them. Rising infection rates only prove the continued need for a state of emergency and MOSH rules to safeguard frontline food and farm workers.

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The Hogan administration and MOSH must take their role seriously and develop rules that keep essential food and farm workers safe — from dangerous variants of COVID-19 and during future epidemics.

Lily Hawkins, Washington, D.C.

The writer is Maryland organizer for Food & Water Watch.

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