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California governor expands health coverage in virus cases

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday signed an executive order allowing employees across California’s economy to apply for worker’s compensation if they contract the coronavirus, with a presumption that it was work-related unless employers can prove otherwise.

Posted: May 7, 2020 8:56 AM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday signed an executive order allowing employees across California’s economy to apply for worker’s compensation if they contract the coronavirus, with a presumption that it was work-related unless employers can prove otherwise.

The presumption applies for the next 60 days and is retroactive to March 19, when Newsom first ordered all but essential workers to stay at home to ease the risk of transmitting the virus. He said the change is needed now as California prepares to relax those orders in coming days and weeks.

Similar debates are happening in Congress and across the nation as leaders debate how much legal protection to give companies whose employees are infected.

Employees in California will be eligible if they tested positive for the coronavirus within 14 days after being at work, the maximum known incubation period. And they must have exhausted other state and federal benefits.

The state’s Workers Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau previously said such a decision could cost from $2.2 billion to $33.6 billion annually, depending on the details. The mid-range estimate of about $11 billion is about 60% of the entire annual estimated cost of the state’s workers’ compensation system before the pandemic.

Employers pay for the program, but in turn employees give up their right to sue for liability.

Business, insurers and local government organizations objected that employees already were covered under California’s no fault, employer-funded system if they could show they contracted the virus on the job.

Newsom’s order flips that burden of proof by creating the legal presumption that the infection was job-related unless employers can show otherwise under what the governor called “strict criteria.”

Victoria Hassid, chief deputy director at the California Department of Industrial Relations that oversees the program, said the state will provide more details in coming days. She said the presumption will apply to workers including “our nurses, our first-responders, janitors, warehouse workers, farm workers, grocery store workers, and all of those that are putting themselves on the line.”

There is no limit on job classifications in the executive order, and Newsom said it is important that all employees returning to work in coming days are confident that they have protection if they are infected.

“As we move into this second phase, we want to keep workers healthy and keep them safe. The worst thing we can do is have a worker that has tested positive but doesn’t want to tell anybody and can spread the disease because he or she can’t afford not to work,” Newsom said. “And so that’s why expanding to all sectors of our economy this workers’ comp presumption is so important, because we want people to feel confident and comfortable, they’ll have their benefits.”

Newsom, a Democrat, said the discussions leading to his decision were “very passionate” and involved labor and business leaders, who were split in their response.

The California Chamber of Commerce said many employees already are covered under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program without putting more strain on the state’s employers.

Newsom’s order “will unnecessarily and significantly drive up costs for California employers through increased workers’ compensation insurance rates at a time when they are struggling to keep Californians employed,” the chamber said in a statement.

American Property Casualty Insurance Association president David A. Sampson said it potentially “jeopardizes the stability of the workers compensation system.”

But the Service Employees’ International Union hailed his decision as an important protection for health care workers, many of them racial minorities, who daily face the threat of infection on the job.

“The last thing an ill worker or the family of a fallen worker needs is to spend months in court to secure the health care and other benefits they need to keep food on the table during the hardest time in their lives,” said April Verrett, a local president and SEIU executive board member.

For most people, the virus 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 and death.

The state Legislature, overwhelming dominated by Democratic lawmakers, had already been considering several similar actions.

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 809890

Reported Deaths: 15606
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Los Angeles2678016514
Riverside581781189
San Bernardino54478925
Orange533151216
San Diego46610776
Kern31947369
Fresno28336382
Sacramento22269406
Alameda21189406
Santa Clara21153312
San Joaquin20194441
Contra Costa16572205
Stanislaus16452354
Tulare15970263
Ventura12729150
Imperial11835317
San Francisco11143101
Monterey988471
San Mateo9843150
Santa Barbara9061113
Merced8872142
Kings756980
Sonoma7412122
Marin6716118
Solano630963
Madera448165
Placer357745
San Luis Obispo354629
Butte282744
Yolo280355
Santa Cruz23589
Sutter170511
Napa168113
San Benito134511
Yuba11537
El Dorado11274
Mendocino93118
Shasta85617
Lassen7400
Glenn5783
Tehama5605
Lake54911
Nevada5347
Colusa5296
Humboldt5017
Calaveras31714
Amador29616
Tuolumne2274
Inyo18715
Mono1652
Siskiyou1650
Del Norte1391
Mariposa752
Plumas500
Modoc270
Trinity160
Sierra60
Alpine20
Unassigned00
Chico
Scattered Clouds
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Hi: 99° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 97°
Oroville
Clear
94° wxIcon
Hi: 99° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 94°
Paradise
Scattered Clouds
97° wxIcon
Hi: 95° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 97°
Chester
Clear
80° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 80°
Red Bluff
Clear
100° wxIcon
Hi: 101° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 100°
Willows
Scattered Clouds
97° wxIcon
Hi: 101° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 97°
Winds remain strong but will calm down the rest of the week. Widespread triple-digits will still be in the forecast through Wednesday or Thursday.
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