WASHINGTON — Last month, for the first time in 27 years, Christina Suthammanont had to celebrate her husband Chai's birthday without him. Chai worked in the kitchen at one of the daycare centers on Quantico Marine Corps Base. He died in May after catching COVID-19.
The Chai Suthammanont Remembrance Act was drafted to prevent what happened to him from repeating. It bill is awaiting a hearing by a Senate committee after passing in the full House of Representatives.
“It's very emotional because it is too late for him,” Christina said.
The conditions at her husband's job made her feel changes were needed to protect federal workers. Chai's legislation requires every federal agency to develop a plan to bring employees back to work. It needs to include details about reopening offices, including what personal protection the agencies will provide, cleaning protocols and plans for employees who are high-risk.
“If his passing has brought about something that makes them more visible and be protected and informed, that's a tremendous,” Christina said. “I just think of it as the good that comes out of his passing.”
Virginia Senator Mark Warner is carrying the bill through the Senate. The Commonwealth is home to one of the largest populations of federal workers in the country.
“Chai died potentially because there were not appropriate safety protocols in place and in his memory we ought to make sure that this becomes law,” Warner told us.
Warner said he's talked to Republicans who are supportive, but right now, the committee hasn't set a hearing date for Chai's bill. This, despite some offices reopening and an increase in COVID-19 cases.
We asked Warner if he feels a sense of urgency to get this bill into law.
“We shouldn't be kicking the can down; this needs to be done,” he said. “Let's give those workers the assurance that their healthcare safety, their personal safety in the COVID era, is going to be protected.”
Christina thinks this legislation could truly help Chai's fellow workers left behind in federal offices and possibly save their lives.
“It makes me proud of him because it's what he would have done,” she added.