After a lull in COVID-19 cases, the virus has come back with a vengeance — more than 100 new cases a day here in Douglas County, more than 2,000 statewide. The human toll from the outbreak is being felt throughout the community, including many workplaces.

In addition to the stress many workers have faced at work — including employment uncertainty, enforcing mask mandates, and embracing new and changing protocols — some workers have also had workplace exposures to COVID-19, getting sick with the virus. Some cases have been so serious the workers have required intensive care; some have even died.

SAIF, which is Oregon’s not-for-profit workers’ compensation insurance company has received more than three-quarters of the COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims in the state — with 3,020 claims through the end of July — and accepted 86% of them.

While most claims were for testing or quarantining due to exposure, many were much more serious and costly. Officials at SAIF said they expect some of the claims to cost more than $1 million.

“These numbers represent Oregonians who have had a significant impact to their lives from workplace exposure,” SAIF Industrial Hygienist Kim Henry said in a news release. “This includes workplace fatalities from COVID-19.”

The good news is vaccines and masks work, Henry said

“Workplaces and workers across Oregon have suffered. To prevent illness with COVID-19 and the impact to our workforce, we need to use all the tools we have until we beat this virus once and for all,” Henry said. “We know that protecting our employees ultimately protects our businesses, our economy, and our communities.”

SAIF outlined seven workplace safety measures that can help:

1. Follow the indoor mask mandate announced by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, which takes effect Friday.

2. Encourage employees to get vaccinated. This includes providing paid time off to go get the shot, offering paid sick time to recover from potential side effects of the vaccine, or even hosting a vaccination event.

3. Implement physical distancing protocols in the workplace.

4. Provide periodic COVID-19 testing for employees who can’t get vaccinated.

5. Implement engineering controls, like portable HEPA filters, that can help prevent the spread of the virus.

6. Provide N95 masks to employees who work in high-risk environments, like correctional facilities, long-term care facilities, and other healthcare workplaces.

7. Keep workplaces clean and make sure employees are provided with the time and supplies to practice good hand hygiene.

Those interested can find more information and resources on keeping workplaces safe at saif.com/coronavirussafety.

Scott Carroll can be reached at scarroll@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4204. Or follow him on Twitter @scottcarroll15.

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