Governors Must Act Now to Protect Health Care Workers in All U.S. States | Physicians for Human Rights

Governors Must Act Now to Protect Health Care Workers in All U.S. States

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Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo shows his mask during a press conference at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on May 26, 2020 at Wall Street in New York City
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As the United States continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, health care workers need our support now more than ever.

The federal government’s response to COVID-19 has been scattered, disorganized, misleading, and downright dangerous. To protect our medical workers and help save lives, we’re urging the National Governors Association to enact consistent and essential protections for health care workers across the country.

Please, stand with Physicians for Human Rights and demand that governors take meaningful and consistent steps to protect health care workers across the nation.

Your Message
Act Now to Protect Health Care Workers in All 50 States
Dear Gov. Cuomo and Gov. Hogan,

In light of the federal government’s limited and haphazard response to date, I join Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) to call on you, as the Chairs of the National Governors Association, to set an example for governors across all 50 states by exercising your authority to protect health workers during the COVID-19 pandemic with clearly defined and universally enforceable workplace safety standards.

To date, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has only issued suggested voluntary standards for worker protections in health care settings, which leaves these standards unenforceable. As a result, state-level governments must set and enforce workplace protection standards for health care facilities.

To this end, governors across the United States must work to implement and enforce standards to mandate the provision of protective equipment, clear procedures for social distancing and cleanliness, and enhance whistleblower protections to safeguard health workers’ ability to raise the alarm about dangerous conditions without fear of discrimination or retribution.

As you know, some states, like Maryland and New York, already have various forms of OSHA-approved State Plans ( that meet or exceed federal OSHA standards. These can be used to protect state and local workers, and in some states these protections extend to cover private and federal workers. In states where there is no State Plan, governors and state legislatures have the authority to institute emergency standards for worker safety and enforcement that go beyond OSHA’s ineffective voluntary standards and enforcement mechanisms and that provide enhanced whistleblower protections.

Whatever a state’s implementing authority, PHR strongly recommends that state-level health worker protections build on the model of the 2009 California OSHA Aerosol Transmissible Disease Standards ( to set clear standards for: social distancing; face masks; hand sanitizing, washing, and gloves; regular workplace disinfection; increased ventilation; and notification of infections, among other key provisions. These standards must also be accompanied by protection from discrimination, intimidation, or dismissal of health workers for speaking out in the face of dangerous conditions to management, co-workers, the government, or the public. Likewise, health workers should not face retribution for bringing additional personal protection to work when employers are unable to provide adequate personal protective equipment.

Strong state-level enforcement is also essential. Once supplemental standards are issued, relevant state departments should be mandated to enforce these standards under their own administrative authority and when following up on individual complaints presented to their offices. States’ attorneys general or other state and local attorneys should likewise be mandated to act in the public’s interest to enforce these standards through the courts.

At no other point in recent memory has the leadership of governors across the country been as critically important as it is during this pandemic, and as the Chair and Vice Chair of the National Governors Association, your leadership in your own states should set the tone for a national response across all 50 states. Without adequate leadership or effective health and safety enforcement by the federal government, it is up to you to institute and utilize wide-ranging protections for all workers in health care settings across your state who continue to serve the public on the front lines of this global health emergency.


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