City of Santa Rosa Response to Cal/OSHA-Issued Citations for COVID-19 Violations
The City of Santa Rosa has received notice via a press announcement by the State of California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) that Cal/OSHA has issued four citations to the City of Santa Rosa for COVID-19 and other health and safety violations. The City has not yet received a copy of these citations.
The DIR press release, issued today, September 22, announces that “the Santa Rosa Police Department failed to implement required screening and referral procedures for persons exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms during the month of March 2020, and failed to report to Cal/OSHA multiple serious illnesses suffered by employees who contracted COVID-19.”
Cal/OSHA opened an investigation following the tragic death of Santa Rosa Police Detective Marylou Armer from COVID-19 related causes. It is the practice of Cal/OSHA to investigate whenever there is a fatality that could have been caused by working conditions, or the work environment. The City, to date, has received neither the citations nor the investigation reports and summaries of this investigation which would include background information on the findings. In addition, Cal/OSHA declined to identify the individuals it claims were allegedly exposed to hazards by the City during a verbal conference. On Friday, September 18, 2020, the City was made aware that Cal/OSHA “would be” issuing citations for COVID-19 and other health and safety violations that resulted from the investigation, but Cal/OSHA declined to give essential details, contrary to its own policies and procedures [E.g., P&P §§ C-1A].
The City of Santa Rosa takes the health and safety of all its employees very seriously, including any suggestion of violation. Based only on Cal OSHA’s preliminary information provided to the City and not Cal/OSHA’s actual violations or the investigation report, the City can share the following:
It is the City’s understanding that the Cal/OSHA Notices and Citations are based mainly on events in late February and March 2020, before information about the nature and extent of COVID-19 was released by the County of Sonoma Health Officer and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).The Police Department (SRPD) complied in a timely fashion with all requirements and guidelines issued by the County of Sonoma Health Officer and the CDC.
The first Sonoma County Health Officer Order that included safety protocols that employers were to implement was issued on March 31, 2020, with an effective date of April 1, 2020. The Order required employers to implement these safety protocols by April 2, 2020. The Police Department implemented those protocols before the required deadline.
According to the March 6, 2020 issue of the Cal-OSHA Reporter, the CDC was advising employers “to begin preparing for the possibility” that COVID-19 could become an epidemic. Prior to issuance of its formal employer guidelines, the CDC advised that employers should “actively encourage sick employees to stay home until being fever-free for 24 hours,” which is consistent with the City’s safety and health policies for cold and flu season that are already in existence and were re-shared to employees Citywide in late February.
Today’s DIR’s press announcement states that “An employee died from COVID-19 after being exposed by another employee who had exhibited signs and symptoms of COVID-19.” No Police Department manager had any knowledge that anyone – employee or member of the public – with whom its officers had contact with, was either infected with or had been confirmed as having COVID-19, or even suspected of such, prior to the first employee testing positive on March 23, 2020. The Police Department is unaware of any employee with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 who was not excluded from work and/or who was permitted to return to work without a medical clearance. The Department also has no evidence of an “exposure” to a Reportable Aerosol Transmissible Disease (RATD) case or suspected case or to an exposure incident involving an Aerosol Transmissible Pathogen (ATP) prior to the first diagnosis on March 23, 2020. The Police Department is unaware of information from the CDC, Cal/OSHA, or the County Health Officer that the COVID-19 virus was aerosol transmissible during March through the May 2020 timeframe.
At every relevant time period, SRPD took measures to remain in compliance with the evolving requirements, orders, and guidelines specific to COVID-19 that were in effect at those corresponding times. According to the April 10, 2020 issue of the publication, Cal-OSHA Reporter, Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 guidance for employers and safety professionals were similar to the recommendations the CDC had issued earlier in April 2020; neither required medical screening/evaluation. The Police Department was in compliance with all guidelines and introduced medical screening/evaluation at the end of March, prior to the official requirements to institute them.
Even before the County Health Officer orders and March 31, 2020 guidelines were issued, upon learning that the first Department employee had tested COVID-19- positive on March 23, 2020, ALL 112 (one hundred twelve) SRPD employees who were potentially “in contact” with an employee who had presented with symptoms were referred to their medical providers, and all were provided testing for COVID-19. The Police Department took even further initiative to expedite testing by coordinating with the County Health Department to arrange for a drive-through testing location specifically for Santa Rosa Public Safety staff to ensure quick and efficient testing and results. On March 28, 2020, drive-through testing was provided by the County, and all possible employees who may have been exposed at an event or at a department training were tested.
On March 26, 2020, the City sent to the County Health Department, for review and compliance confirmation, a list of information and procedures it was implementing in various departments, including SRPD, to flatten the curve and stop the spread of COVID‑19. In response, the County Health representative confirmed that these steps were “aligned with our recommendations.”
Following the positive testing results of additional SRPD employees, and before the County issued employer guidance, the Department took swift and proactive actions to massively overhaul scheduling for patrol and dispatch employees to further limit COVID-19 spread and protect its employees. Officers were assigned to either a day or night shift, for a two-week period, and then would self-isolate/quarantine for the following two weeks. Then a second set of officers would work either a day or night shift for a two-week period, and so on.
The City reviewed Cal/OSHA’s own internal COVID-prevention policies that they applied to their own staff during the months in question. The Police Department was following the same then-available guidelines and recommendations.
A total of nine SRPD officers tested positive for COVID-19 in March 2020. Since March, no other Police Department employee has tested positive.