State workers seek more protection from COVID-19

COLUMBIA (AP) — Advocates for Missouri state workers called Thursday on Gov. Mike Parson to do more to protect employees from the coronavirus.

Union leaders, Democratic state lawmakers and other advocates for worker rights want no-strings-attached premium pay for workers, more N95 masks and the chance for more employees to work from home.

Danny Homan is president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees for Missouri, Kansas and Iowa. He said many workers were getting only cloth face masks at veterans homes and mental health centers where people have tested positive for COVID-19.

“No public employee should have to give up their life to provide the service that is essential to the citizens of Missouri, or any state. Period,” Homan said. “Get the PPE equipment to those that need it, and quit calling a stupid cloth mask personal protective equipment.”

Parson, in an afternoon news conference, said directors of each department must make their own evaluations on protective equipment.

“I do know this: If we need to do anything to protect our employees in the state, we’re going to protect our employees in the state,” Parson said. “If it’s a matter of supplying PPE and we think that’s the direction to go, we’ll make sure to provide that at the state level.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death

Parson’s administration is offering state employees who show up for work at places where someone has tested positive for the coronavirus an additional $250 per paycheck so long as they don’t miss any days.

But Rep. Keri Ingle, D-Lee’s Summit, called that “a gesture at best.”

Ingle said that policy encouraged people to come to work sick. She said that all state workers should be getting premium pay and that any workers who contracted the virus should get two weeks of paid leave without penalty.

Missouri NAACP President Rod Chapel also said state employees should get free COVID-19 testing before they return to work and members of the public should have their temperatures checked before coming face-to-face with state workers.

The state health department said Thursday that the number of deaths rose by 11 to 329, and the number of confirmed coronavirus cases increased by 137 to 7,562. The actual number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest that people can be infected without feeling sick.

While the vast majority of jurisdictions plan to reopen most businesses next week as part of Parson’s statewide plan, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said Thursday that it was too early to do so in her hard-hit city, where 1,077 illnesses have been confirmed and 57 people have died.

“We need to see at least 14 days of sustained decrease in the number of new COVID-19 cases before we can consider reopening,” Krewson, a Democrat, said in a statement. “By moving that process too quickly, we could put our family members and neighbors at risk for contracting the virus.”

St. Louis County also is sticking with its stay-at-home order. More than 3,000 confirmed cases and 162 deaths have occurred in St. Louis County.

Also Thursday, the state labor department reported that an additional 54,700 people filed for unemployment benefits in the week ending April 25, a roughly 8 percent decrease from the previous week. Close to 90 percent of those claims were COVID-19 related, according to the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

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