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Virginia adopts first-in-the-nation pandemic workplace safety rules

Employees who are known or suspected to be positive for COVID-19 cannot return to work for 10 days or until they receive two consecutive negative tests.

RICHMOND, Va. — Social distancing and other precautions against COVID-19 will soon be mandatory in workplaces across Virginia under the emergency pandemic safety regulations finalized Wednesday.

The new rules, proposed by Gov. Ralph Northam and passed by the state’s Safety and Health Codes Board, make Virginia the first state in the United States to pass comprehensive safety rules for employers.

While business groups generally opposed the new rules, labor unions and other advocates praised the effort, saying they hope other states will do the same.

RELATED: 'Your license will be on the line' | As VA cases go up, Northam threatens consequences for businesses flouting mask rules

"We thank Gov. Northam and the Safety and Health Codes Board for being bold and making a historical move during these uncertain and unprecedented times by making Virginia the first state in the nation to issue a comprehensive standard to protect all workers from COVID-19," Virginia AFL-CIO President Doris Crouse-Mays said.

Newly adopted standards require all employers to mandate social distancing measures and face coverings for employees in customer-facing positions and when social distancing is not possible, provide frequent access to hand washing or hand sanitizer, and regularly clean high-contact surfaces. 

RELATED: Governor Northam orders stronger enforcement of coronavirus health regulations in Hampton Roads

In addition, new standards require all employees to be notified within 24 hours if a coworker tests positive for the virus. 

Employees who are known or suspected to be positive for COVID-19 cannot return to work for 10 days or until they receive two consecutive negative tests.

“Workers should not have to sacrifice their health and safety to earn a living, especially during an ongoing global pandemic,” Northam said. “Keeping Virginians safe at work is not only a critical part of stopping the spread of this virus, it’s key to our economic recovery and it’s the right thing to do.”

The emergency temporary standards, infectious disease preparedness, and response plan templates, and training guidelines will be posted on the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry website

Workers who feel unsafe in their workplace can file a formal complaint with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration online.

Virginia reported 1,084 new cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday – the first time the commonwealth has broken the 1,000 mark since June 7.

Virginia’s 7-day average for new cases has increased by more than 100% over the past two weeks, growing from 527 on July 1 to 879 as of Wednesday.

RELATED: Virginia coronavirus updates: Commonwealth moves to Phase 3, but bar seating still prohibited

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