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COVID-19

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Texas Ends Mask Mandate and Removes all Occupancy Limits

Texas’ Governor marked the state’s Independence Day on March 2, 2021, by issuing an Executive Order that eliminates the statewide face covering mandate, and allows all businesses in Texas to operate at full capacity beginning on March 10, 2021.  Governor Abbott said that the decisions were based on the vaccine rollout and falling infection rates.

Deaths, new cases, and hospitalizations are down; in fact, hospitalizations in Texas are at the lowest levels since October 2020.  Despite interruptions caused by the severe weather over the last few weeks, 6.8% of Texans have been vaccinated, leading Governor Abbott to join others in asserting that the attempts at controlling this virus are improving.  The news comes only a day after the Director of the CDC warned about the possibility of a fourth wave of the virus, especially in light of the spread of several variants.

Key takeaways for businesses:

U.S. COVID-19: OSHA Issues Guidance Addressing Mitigation and Prevention of COVID-19 in the Workplace

As part of President Biden’s first executive actions, on January 21, 2021, the president ordered the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) to issue new science-based guidance to protect workers and enhance workplace health and safety during the Covid-19 pandemic. In compliance with this executive order, on January 29, 2021, OSHA issued new guidance to help employers better identify risks of being exposed to and/or contracting COVID-19 and to ascertain appropriate control measures employers can implement to address those risks. The guidance, titled “Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace,” (“Guidance”) contains advisory recommendations and reinforces already existing mandatory safety and health standards. This Alert provides an overview of this new federal Guidance and highlights important considerations for employers.

Legal Obligations of Employers in Responding to COVID-19

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, OSHA has referenced and leveraged the Occupational Safety and Health Act

California and New York Roll Back Certain COVID-19 Restrictions

January 28, 2021

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In late 2020, many states enacted stay-at-home orders or issued new lockdowns in an effort to curb a perceived risk of elevated infection rates during the holiday season.  With the holidays behind us, and as hospitalizations rates begin to decline, and ICU capacity increases, some states have begun the process of rolling back their more stringent holiday restrictions.

The following is a summary of the steps that California and New York are taking to ease their restrictions.

California

The Governor announced on Monday, January 25th, that the Regional Stay at Home Order, which went into effect in early December, was being lifted.  The state now goes back to the Blueprint for a Safer Economy Plan that was in place before the Regional Stay at Home Order went into effect.

With the exception of four counties, the entire state is in the Widespread Tier under the plan, which is the most restrictive.

St. Louis County COVID-19 Restrictions

November 16, 2020

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As with many other places across the country, St. Louis County is experiencing a surge of COVID-19 cases, and has enacted a new round of restrictions as a result. As of November 13, 2020, there were 38,620 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in St. Louis County, with 900 new cases reported on November 12th alone. St. Louis County’s positivity rate reached a staggering 15.1%, the highest since April of 2020.  Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 are on the sharp rise.

In response, the St. Louis County Executive, Dr. Sam Page, announced a series of new restrictions:

  • Restaurants and bars will close indoor service but not outdoor dining, curbside, delivery, and take-out service;
  • All businesses will be reduced to 25 percent of their occupancy limits (currently at 50 percent);
  • Gatherings will be reduced to a maximum of ten people (currently at 49 people);
  • Residents should only leave their homes for specified reasons

PFAS: Regulation of Firefighting Foam

PFAS: Regulation of Firefighting Foam

November 13, 2020

Authored by: Tom Lee and John Kindschuh

26 states have either passed or proposed regulations regarding per- or polyfluoroalkyl (“PFAS”) based Class B Aqueous Film-Forming foams (“AFFF”) used for firefighting.  These regulations typically involve restrictions in four general areas:

  • Discharge or use requirements – These regulations usually limit or prohibit the use of AFFF in training or testing exercises, and only allow the use of AFFF in active firefighting situations;
  • Storage or “take-back” provisions – Some states have enacted state run programs to purchase and dispose of AFFF, usually purchasing from government agencies;
  • Notification or reporting requirements – When continued use of AFFF is allowed, some states have required that businesses report specific details regarding their use; and
  • Limitations on personal protective equipment (“PPE”) – In some cases states have limited or prohibited PPE for firefighters that contains PFAS-materials.
  • While the specific regulations are listed in the chart below, BCLP wants to begin by providing an overview

    CDC Guidance Expands “Close Contact”

    October 23, 2020

    Categories

    On October 21, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) broadened the definition of “close contact” for purposes of COVID-19 contact tracing and quarantining requirements.

    Since many state and local government COVID-19 orders rely on the CDC definition of “close contact” to determine who should stay home, monitor, and be tested, the expanded definition will have repercussions across the country.  Businesses may need to re-train their employees so that they follow the correct contact tracing protocols, and additionally, businesses may need to re-write COVID-19 protocols and standard operating procedures to reflect the new definition.

    Contacts Are Now Cumulative Over a 24-Hour Period

    Originally, the CDC defined a “close contact” as a person who spent 15 consecutive minutes within six feet of an infected person starting from 2 days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, 2 days prior to test speciment collection) until the time the patient is

    Back to Work: Planning for COVID-19 Impacts in the U.S. Through 2021

    September 2, 2020

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    The United States had hoped that industries (and life in general) would be “back to normal” by now after being impacted by COVID-19.  Society has endured this global pandemic for over six months, and while there have been improvements and efforts to allow certain businesses to reopen, there is no clear end in sight.

    Current Events

    Recent trends confirm that the impacts from COVID-19 will continue.  While death rates in states like New York[1] and Arizona[2] are decreasing, states like Georgia[3] and Florida[4] are seeing climbing infection rates.  Local hotspots like Danbury, Connecticut, have emerged,[5] and eight states (thus far) have had spikes in cases caused by the large Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota.[6]  In response, some states and local governments are implementing controls.  For example, Illinois is taking some preventative safety measures,[7] and Oahu, Hawaii issued a two-week lockdown to address increasing infection rates.[8] 

    The important

    Proposition 65 – OEHHA Proposes Safe Harbor Concentrations and Blanket Protections for Exposures to Acrylamide and Other Listed Chemicals in Cooked or Heat Processed Foods

    Acrylamide in food products has been one of the most significant drivers for recent Proposition 65 enforcement actions, frustrating many in the food industry, particularly because acrylamide is not added to those products. Acrylamide forms naturally when starches are heated during the cooking or baking process. Out of the 1,923 60-day notices issued this year as of August 5th, 202 were based on allegations of acrylamide exposure. After years of costly litigation and industry consternation, it appears that OEHHA has offered a possible solution to provide clarity, and potentially reduce the risk of enforcement actions for the presence of acrylamide, furfuryl alcohol, and other listed chemicals formed during the cooking process.

    On August 4, 2020, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), the lead agency that implements Proposition 65 and has the authority to promulgate and amend regulations, released a proposed regulation providing that intake of listed chemicals formed by

    States Use Re-Closures, Pause Orders, and Travel Restrictions to Combat Increased COVID-19 Case Counts

    The United States has seen an 82% increase in the number of new COVID-19 cases since two weeks ago, and has set daily new case records four times in the last week.  The bulk of the increased case counts are coming from states in the South and West, including Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, and Texas, along with others.  The increased case counts come at a time when many of those states are still in the middle of their reopening plans, and have raised questions about whether industries will continue opening, or whether the increased case counts will lead to re-closures.

    While every state’s approach is different, the following trends have developed over the last week.

    1. Business Re-Closures

    Several states have recently decided to re-close, or significantly restrict certain businesses.

    State Steps Taken Arizona Closed fitness centers, nightclubs, water parks, movie theaters, tubing rentals, and bars for 30 days (June

    Boise, Idaho Is First In The Nation To Reintroduce COVID-19 Business Closures

    Ada County’s New Restrictions

    The move back to Phase III triggers the closure of nightclubs, bars, and large venues.  Some bar owners had already begun implementing temperature screenings, plastic barriers between patrons and bartenders, and constant cleaning of handrails and doorknobs, but the Central District Health division of the Idaho District Board of Health still determined that closures are necessary.  Gatherings of more than 50 people are also no longer allowed.  In addition, out of state visitors are required to self-quarantine for 14 days.

    Why is the relevant for businesses outside of Ada County?

    It is the first example of a jurisdiction re-closing businesses, and a sign that a trend in that direction may be coming, particularly in the bar and nightclub industries.  The move also signals that infection rates may be the main driver for health officials who are making those closure decisions, and provides at least one data

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