Updated: July 10, 2020 06:43 PM
Created: July 10, 2020 06:25 PM
More than 1,000 front-line workers have now filed for workers’ compensation benefits in Minnesota after contracting COVID-19.
In April, firefighters, health care workers and others fought successfully for a change in state law. It now includes language saying when a front-line worker has COVID, it’s presumed they got it on the job.
“These individuals are at high risk for being exposed to the virus,” said Commissioner Nancy Leppink, with the Department of Labor and Industry. “We’ve seen a gradual increase in the claims where COVID is identified as the cause of the illness, or is the illness.”
DLI received 2,018 COVID-19-related claims by June 26. Front-line workers accounted for 1,567 claims, with those in health care accounting for 1,335 of the claims.
According to DLI, workers in health care include doctors, nurses, nursing assistants, health technicians and technologists, therapists, home health aides and medical assistants.
“I think it's probably a bit lower than what we sort of estimated would be the number of claims,” said Leppink. “If all of the claims that exist are being filed then that's a good thing [because] that means that we're having a lower infection rate than the agency had estimated, however, it could also mean that workers don't understand that they have a right to file a claim.”
She said it’s important for employees to report if they believe the got COVID while on the job.
“So that the employer knows that that's they've become ill and they can then fulfill their obligation to report that to their insurer,” she said. “It is for the insurer to decide whether it's work related, it's really not for the employer.”
According to Leppink, some of the claims have been challenged and denied.
As of June 26, 1,026 claims have been accepted for payment.
“It’s really important that workers understand their employer cannot require their workers to waive any rights they have,” said Leppink. “We are seeing some examples where employers are requesting workers sign waivers absolving them of liability if they were to contract COVID-19 so it's very important that employers and workers understand that's not legal and they can't do that.”
Since COVID-19 hit Minnesota the first week of March, health care workers have been on the front lines.
“We walked into this COVID not knowing anything about it,” said Mary Turner, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association. “Our real high risk period in the hospitals was at the beginning.”
She is also an Intensive Care Nurse in the COVID unit at North Memorial Hospital.
According to the state's situation update on Friday, 3,965 health care workers have tested positive for COVID. It's an increase from the weekly report issued on Thursday, which said 3,906 health care workers have contracted the disease. Of those, at least 225 have been hospitalized.
Turner said the situation for health care workers has improved as they've learned more symptoms, personal protective equipment supplies have stabilized and testing has become widespread.
“We’re in a better situation,” she said. “That being said, I have to stress to people COVID is not like getting the flu. You have a younger generations that are now getting it and I think they think they're infallible but COVID affects every system in your body.”
As a trained COVID nurse now, Turner said she feels an obligation to stay healthy for her patients. Nurses, she said, worry about the health of their families as well.
“This COVID is in the back of our minds all the time,” said Turner.
She urges everyone to wear a mask in public to prevent the spread. The Minnesota Nurses Association said last week it "firmly supports" mandatory mask policies.
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