Permanent law change sought requiring employers to report COVID-19 cases

Coronavirus New Mexico

NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – The New Mexico Environment Department filed an emergency amendment to state law that requires employers to notify the state of positive COVID-19 cases in the workplace within four hours.

The rule has actually been in place for a few months, but the Environment Department is now working to make that requirement permanent, saying communication from employers to the state is crucial to curbing the spread of COVID-19.

“We saw immediate results when we enacted the emergency amendment in cutting down our response time,” explained Maddy Hayden, spokesperson for the New Mexico Environment Department, or NMED.

Back in August, the NMED filed an emergency amendment to state law requiring employers to notify the state within four hours of a positive COVID-19 case among employees. “The state as a whole has had to take huge steps to handle this really unprecedented situation,” said Hayden.

Before the rule change, the NMED would await word from the Department of Health about COVID cases in the workplace, based on employment info the patient provided when they took the test. Once the NMED is notified, a ‘rapid response‘ is initiated. Since the rule-change, response times improved.

However, the NMED says at this point with case counts so high across the state, it’s overwhelmed with the amount of workplace rapid responses. “We’ve been seeing increases for week over week, for months now,” said Hayden. “We had our highest number ever, a couple of weeks ago at 2,400 in a week.”

Establishments with four or more rapid responses in 14 days are subject to two-week closures, unless employers agree to conduct regular testing of all staff.

When asked if there is a fear that maybe employers aren’t reporting cases because they’re afraid they’ll be shut down, Hayden responded, “I certainly think that’s possible, but I think that employers also know that there are consequences for not obeying workplace safety laws.”

Consequences for violating that workplace safety law could include fines up to $130,000 per violation, and court action.

In September, the NMED cited an O’Reilly Auto Parts in Santa Fe for not requiring face coverings and exposing staff to COVID-19. The business was fined $79,200.

Hayden also said as of December 4, the state currently has seven open investigations into workplace-related coronavirus deaths.

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